I don’t know about you, but I mess up. A lot. And in my life, I’ve found myself asking for
forgiveness more than once. But when I fell from ministry, it took me a while to get to a place where my heart was right enough to ask forgiveness in the right manner.
I’d like to focus on why people fail to forgive, even though a heartfelt and repentant apology is offered. It’s a difficult thing to face, especially when you’ve taken the time to face your demons, approach someone with humility and say those two words, “I’m sorry.” But I might point out – if you find yourself angry if someone withholds forgiveness, your heart still might not be in the right place. But that’s a topic for later.
So let’s get to a few reasons why people withhold forgiveness:
1. They want you to jump through more hoops.
So there you are. You’ve committed a sin and people have been hurt. You’ve reconciled to God, gotten help, and done what you can to make restitution (if you’ve broken laws). You approach someone you’ve hurt and ask for forgiveness. They say, “No. You still aren’t fully repentant.” Then, they add a few caveats to what would make you more repentant: talking to their pastor, church attendance every Sunday, an attitude change that they haven’t seen yet, etc.
What are you supposed to do?
First, take their response graciously. They could be right. Maybe you haven’t been the most humble. Maybe you have neglected something. Give their point of view a chance. After you have, then explain to them with humility the steps you have taken and how God has forgiven you. Tell them about how deep the grace of God is, how you’ve been humbled by the decisions you made and how great the love of God is. Show them how you have been held responsible by other Christians and have followed through in repentance.
If you’re still there holding the bag and they don’t understand or are unwilling to forgive, then show grace. Agree to disagree and maybe meet at a later time.
In the case of adultery (pastors or regular people), it’s a tough thing to expect forgiveness right away from people. I’ve blogged about it before and here is the link. It is my belief that no one is beyond rescue. No one is beyond the grace of God. If someone comes to us asking to be forgiven, who are we to refuse if they have shown humility and have been forgiven by God? Don’t add something that is beyond the work of God to what they need to do.
2. They have been hurt in their past.
Some people won’t forgive because the sin you committed was committed by someone in their past close to them. When you did it, it just opened up a huge wound for them. That old wound was never closed and they see that sin as unforgivable. Your chances of being forgiven by them? Not very good. How were you supposed to know? You weren’t.
This is one of those things that you just trust God to work out. Sometimes we come across unforgiving people and just wonder, “Why are they like that?” Who knows? It is more about them than it is about you. Keep it in mind and know that God is at work in the hearts of people. Don’t judge people when they withhold forgiveness. Be patient with people when they withhold forgiveness. Allow God’s grace to move in their lives. Move on with your life. Just love, understand and move on.
3. They are currently committing the same sin.
Similar to #2, but slightly different. They will lash out at you for whatever you did, but they are secretly doing the same thing. It’s pretty common. Those who are involved in a sin will be harsh critics of that sin. And similar to #2, God will work it out.
Forgiveness is worth working for. It’s worth being humble for. It’s worth the hard work and difficulty.
In my ministry to fallen pastors, I’ve seen a lot of pastors, directors of missions, church leaders and deacons who refused to forgive pastors and the women they were with. Why? Because they had the seeds of sin in their own lives. They refused to forgive because they had the seeds of adultery, pornography, lust and fornication brewing in them. Realize that many times, the lack of forgiveness isn’t about you, it’s about them and deep seeded feelings and resentment they hold. Be patient. Love and show grace.
4. They are still hurt and not ready to forgive.
This one can be tough for people. We think that just because we are ready to say the words, “I’m sorry,” that someone should be ready to forgive. Well, it doesn’t always work that way. When we hurt someone, we don’t always understand the degree to which we’ve hurt them. And it’s selfish of us to think we do.
Sometimes, people need time alone with their hurt. Sometimes they need to pray. Sometimes they need counseling. Sometimes they just need time. Give it to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t bombard them with, “You know, I asked for forgiveness and the Bible says you’re supposed to give it to me.” Don’t guilt them into forgiving you because it’s not right or natural.
Give people space and time. It’s the gracious thing to do. I’ve seen pastors who have committed adultery ambush their spouses with commands of, “God tells you that you should forgive me,” two weeks after they committed the sin. That’s not fair. Never ambush or bully someone into forgiveness. Don’t expect someone to forgive you right after your sin is discovered. People need time to process and heal.
In fact, if you are acting that way, you are probably justifying your sin and you need help yourself. It’s something I talk about in my book. Realize that you need healing and help.
Here’s another one that’s tough for people to hear when they desire repentance: Sometimes people may see in you a lack of repentance. They see a lack of humility. And they might call you out on it. They should do it in love and compassion. When you ask for forgiveness, don’t react harshly if they do this. Listen.
And if they want to talk about it and you don’t think you can handle it, go to a mediator. Someone you both trust and will listen to. Maybe you both have a point.
Forgiveness is worth working for. It’s worth being humble for. It’s worth the hard work and difficulty. There are probably about a thousand points I’ve left out. If you think of any, feel free to make a comment on this blog and list one. As a community of faith, that’s why we’re here. To help each other out.
And, as always, if you’re struggling with anything, please feel free to contact me. If I can’t help you, I probably know someone who can. And no joke – if you’re a fallen pastor in need of help, or a church whose pastor has just fallen, or if you are the “other woman,” or if you are church leadership in need of advice, or even if you are the pastor’s wife in need of help and your pastor husband just cheated on you, go to my contact page. Send me a message. I will respond.
We will talk. If I can’t help, I’ll find someone who will. I’m dedicated to helping anyone who needs serious help. I will keep all your information confidential and I will never judge anyone. If you email or if we talk, know that you will be treated with the greatest of respect and care.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you. I have counseled over 500 pastors, church leaders, denomination leaders, pastor’s wives, “other women,” and more in the past six years. I will not judge you and I will keep all your information completely confidential.
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