In my last post, I stated, “Our level of feeling offended has more to do with what we believe about ourselves than it does the actual offense.” This statement got some negative feedback so I would like to clarify this point.
One response was that this perspective can relieve the offender of responsibility for the hurtful action. I suppose that if one glibly responded to an offense with, “That’s okay,” (having no feeling of offense) it would communicate to the offender that no wrong was done. Thus, he/she would not be responsible for any hurt as no hurt was experienced. However, our level of feeling offended does not hold or release a person from being responsible for their actions. God judges and holds us responsible for our actions, no matter the emotional impact of the offense on others. Forgiveness is not telling an offender that he/she is not responsible for the actions taken, but it is taking back control of your emotions and beliefs from your offender. When we harbor unforgiveness, we are allowing this emotion to rule us, to take us places we never intended to go. (See Forgiveness Process: An Analogy.) We are more easily angered and less patient with those we love. We can become depressed and/or isolate. Staying with unforgiveness indicates that we believe that unforgiveness will somehow bring justice, which it never does.
So then, where is justice? How then, do our offenders come to know they have done wrong? Confrontation is part of the forgiveness process but it is the last step, and it is last for many reasons. Before proceeding to confrontation, one must let go of the desire to be the judge, jury and prosecuting attorney. This is the crux of forgiveness: trusting God to be the best judge. Each person is accountable to God for their actions, attitude and behavior. It is not our job to judge and we cannot hold anyone responsible for their actions. The only way that we can hold someone responsible for their actions is through a court of law. Even then, it is the judicial system, primarily the judge in the courtroom who holds the defendant accountable for their actions by giving a sentence. Most of the offenses we experience do not warrant an arrest or even a civil suit. However, for those that do, one can forgive and still press charges. But without forgiveness, research has shown that peace is not guaranteed, even if the offender receives the death penalty.
Now if our beliefs affect our level of feeling offended, one might question, “If one had a perfect belief system, would one ever be offended?” When actions are offensive, the proper response is to be offended. Even God is offended when we do wrong. However, how long should we stay offended and to what level should we feel offended? When we hold on to the offense we are nursing it. When we nurse the offense, we bond to it and it strengthens and grows. We tend to hold on to offenses when we have negative beliefs about ourselves or the situation. These beliefs often include, “If I forgive, I will be vulnerable to hurt again” or “If I forgive, my offender won’t know how much it hurt me or that they did something wrong.” These beliefs are negative or irrational because the belief is that unforgiveness gives one power for protection or bringing conviction. The reality is that I am just as vulnerable to future hurt whether I forgive or not and conviction has more to do with the offender and his/her relationship with God than it does my unforgiveness.
In my experience of helping people work through the forgiveness process, sometimes an offense plants a negative belief in a person. This is very common in childhood abuse. The belief that gets planted can be “I’m not safe” or “It was my fault.” These beliefs heighten the feelings of violation. As healing occurs and the beliefs change to “I’m safe now” or “It’s not my fault,” people can then let go of the hurt and pain and forgive. On the other hand, sometimes the offense triggers negative beliefs that can trap one in unforgiveness. For example, being rear-ended in a car accident can trigger the belief, “I’m not safe” and increase the feelings of violation. This is common with compiled hurt where similar offenses from the past are lumped in with a present offense. When the belief changes to “I’m safe,” both the past and recent offenses are more easily forgiven. Forgiving is not telling an offender that he/she is not responsible for the actions taken, but it is taking back control of your emotions and beliefs from your offender.
Feeling offended and unforgiveness can be different. Feeling offended is an acknowledgement that a wrong was done. Unforgiveness is holding on to the feeling of offense. So, a better statement would be, “Often our unforgiveness has more to do with what we believe about ourselves than it does the actual offense.”