What if we stopped asking people to forgive us…
by Ken Dyck
What if we stopped asking people to forgive us and started making things right, as far as it depends on us? The term for this is “making amends” and it’s one of the most significant reasons for broken marriages, church conflicts and relational breakdown.
Let’s suppose there is unfaithfulness in marriage. Let’s suppose there’s an abuse of authority in leadership. Or, making it even simpler, let’s suppose you borrow my lawnmower, nick the blade over rocks, overheat it till it smokes blue and return it with an empty gas tank. There is now an obvious tension between you and I – we both know what happened – and you ask me to forgive you. Is that really what God is asking of you? Is that supposed to resolve the tension and reconcile our relationship?
You might be surprised to hear that nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to ask another person to forgive us. (Check it out! You won’t find that verse, even in the Message). The request to be forgiven is to be made towards God alone. What God does instruct us to do is make things right, as far as it depends on us. (Romans 12.18). In Jesus’ words, if you are at the altar offering your gift and there remember that your brother has something against you (i.e. you ruined his lawnmower), leave your gift there at the altar and go to buy your brother a new one. Then come and offer your gift/worship. (Matthew 5.23-24).
When Jesus visited Zacchaeus’ home, his heart was so moved by Jesus’ love and the value for him that he committed to give half his money to the poor and pay back anyone whom he had cheated four-fold! (The Old Testament model only asked him to add 20 per cent). Zacchaeus intuitively knew he needed to make things right. He didn’t go about asking forgiveness from those he stole from. Jesus’ response? “Salvation has come to this house today.” Zacchaeus didn’t even pray the sinner’s prayer.
My point: whenever we deeply hurt another person and ask their forgiveness, we pressure them to make us feel better and alleviate our guilt rather than take responsibility to make things right. That is selfish. It’s unfair – we only victimize them again and it’s also very ineffective. Let’s suppose it’s an affair. What is the Christian wife or husband supposed to say when their spouse asks forgiveness? I realize (and teach) we are all required to forgive. Christianity is the only faith I know of where forgiveness is mandatory. But I have seen far too many apologies and requests for forgiveness in place of deep repentance, honest confession and desire to make things right.
A number of years ago the Canadian government sought to reconcile (make things right) with various First Nations groups over the residential school abuses. During this process, the leaders of the First Nations reconciliation team arrived at a practical criteria they felt necessary for true reconciliation were to take place.
1. A sincere apology must be offered (specific and without excuse).
2. The hurtful behavior must stop (towards the offended parties and others) and it must become clearly evident to all that it has stopped
3. All reasonable attempts to make restitution towards the offended parties must be pursued wherever possible.
Unless the harmful behaviour is stopped and clearly evident that it has stopped, the apology will not be trusted, future trust cannot be built and the relationship cannot be restored. I understand they didn’t take their cues from the Bible. But there is some very practical wisdom here.
This is what the biblical process of making amends provides…an authentic opportunity for trust to be re-established and the relationship (in whatever form) to be reconciled. The relationship may never quite be the same. Forgiveness, trust and making amends are related but separate issues. Some people will never trust you again and some may not forgive. In many cases, however, we have seen a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and the making of amends brings new hope in marriages, families, business relationships and churches.
And even if the offended party will not forgive, God will honour your efforts and you will be able to go forward in life without condemnation or shame. It is a powerful thing to take responsibility for our actions and make things right as far as it depends on us.
Making mmends is one of the most practical and powerful teachings of Freedom Session, a 27 week healing-discipleship ministry. For more information, visit freedomsession.com. You can also download an audio of our teaching on making amends.
Ken Dyck is the Executive Director of Freedom Session International