Does Forgiveness Always Mean Reconciliation?
Jesus & Toxic People: Part 4 (Betrayal)
If you’d like to check out the other posts written last year on responding to toxic people, you can check those out HERE.
Forgiveness doesn’t always mean going back into a relationship with a betrayer. If the person close to you has done serious damage in the relationship or is still genuinely unrepentant, it is wise to change how you interact with the betrayer and how close you keep that person in your life. You may need to limit the access you give this person or completely separate from this individual.
If we look directly to God and how He has forgiven us through Jesus Christ, we all have access to a right relationship with Him for eternity. We have all been forgiven of our sins through Christ. But does that mean everyone will inherit the Kingdom of God? Does everyone on earth have a right relationship with God? No. God has boundaries around who He considers His children. His children trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and have repented and turned from their old ways. It is only through Christ that one can inherit the Kingdom of God and have a right relationship with Him for eternity.
Turning to God’s Word, we have specific examples to reference in regard to betrayal and the consequences that come with it. Please note the betrayals given are limited examples; there are other types of betrayals that can happen within a marriage, family relationships, or friendships.
Within a marriage, God establishes clear boundaries for the relationship between a husband and wife. If the husband were to betray his wife and commit adultery, the wife can and should forgive her husband, but there are still consequences for the husband’s act of betrayal. While the wife can choose to work things out with her husband, she has the right to divorce her husband in this circumstance. The husband’s actions have warranted severe consequences.
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.Matthew 19:9 NIV
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.Hebrews 13:4
See also, Matthew 5:32, Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:33, Matthew 19:4-6, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Corinthians 7:2-11
The same can be said of an abusive parent and an adult-child relationship. While the adult-child may have forgiven the parent for past abuse, it may not be safe or healthy for the adult-child to stay in a close relationship with the parent. The parent’s past actions may have deeply severed the relationship, and therefore the adult-child may have limited or no contact.
Fathers (or parents) do no exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.Ephesians 6:4 NIV
Fathers (or parents) do no embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.Colossians 3:21 NIV
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.Psalm 27:10 NIV
See also, Proverbs 22:24-25, Proverbs 12:22, Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:6, 2 Corinthians 11:14, Romans 16:18.
In both examples of betrayal in the husband-wife relationship and the parent-child relationship, there’s lasting damage because of the actions of the betrayer. Even if there is repentance and forgiveness, it doesn’t negate consequences for severe acts of betrayal. It is possible to let someone go in forgiveness and love without keeping that person close.
Unfortunately, many like myself believed the lie that forgiveness meant “things go back to normal” in a relationship with little or no consequence. This can actually cause more damage in an abusive relationship. You soon become a prisoner in a dysfunctional and destructive cycle where there are no consequences for another person’s actions. God has boundaries and so should we.
Sadly, because of past betrayal, I can’t keep my mother close. While I have forgiven her, it is not safe for me to step back into the relationship. The betrayal wounds are too deep. Time and again when I opened myself back up to my mom, my feelings were quickly brushed aside with a general apology or the “let’s just try to get along” response but there was no change in her behavior. I clung to the hope that my mom would change, and she’d see how hurtful her behavior was, but she never did. She continued to hurt me and expected me to put up with her abuse. For a long time, I was the one changing and bending over backward to excuse her abusive behavior in order “maintain the peace”. In time, God began showing me how I was suppressing my emotions and feelings to please someone who continued to hurt me and didn’t care. There was never genuine remorse from my mother for her actions. There was no repentance or even a willingness to acknowledge her unhealthy behavior. She never tried to understand how her actions hurt me or affected me; it was always about her. If I were to go back into a relationship with my mother, I would only be setting myself up for more hurt and betrayal. Instead, I have chosen to forgive and step away in love.
This is why it’s so important to stay in the Bible and continue to pray and cry out to God with our deepest burdens and wounds. Jesus is our ultimate Wonderful Counselor who guides us with wisdom this world doesn’t possess (Isaiah 9:6).
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.Psalm 55:22 ESV
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.Psalm 37:5 ESV
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.Isaiah 12:2 ESV
If you recognize in your heart that you have forgiven your betrayer and hold no ill will towards that person(s), you then have to make healthy choices moving forward for yourself and future relationships. And sometimes that choice is stepping aside and letting God handle that person. Especially if that person is in a destructive sinful cycle, it’s unwise and unhealthy to put yourself back in a close relationship with that person. But it also means pouring into God and allowing Him to work inside of you. He is the true Healer and Restorer of the soul.
If you are struggling with a betrayal in a marriage or with a family member, it is especially important to seek wise counsel from pastoral staff and professional counselors.
Part 4 Reflection Questions:
- Has God forgiven everyone of their sins? How did He do this?
- Will everyone go to heaven? Why, or why not?
- If you have experienced a deep betrayal, how have you let God into your wound? Or, how can you?
- Is it wise and safe to keep your betrayer around you? What boundaries may need to be in place with a person who has betrayed you?
- How have your relationships changed for the better/worse since you were betrayed?
- How can you continue to meet with other Christians to process your betrayal?
- How are you spending time in God’s Word to process the betrayal?
Photo by Alena Darmel: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-walking-out-from-the-man-6642917/