Excusing an offense without holding the offending party accountable is merely enabling them to go on sinning. Repentance is a part of any sound relational equation. After all, James 5:16 tells us that we are to CONFESS and be healed, not DEFLECT and be healed.-V.L.S.

Matthew 5:22 King James Version (KJV) 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother WITHOUT A CAUSE shall be in danger of the judgment...

"If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and IF HE REPENTS, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, "I repent", you shall forgive him" -Luke 17:3-4

     First we must realize that forgiveness, by categorical definition, is a two-way street. It makes sense that forgiveness must be sought first, right? Without holding others accountable for the damage and pain they've caused us, we merely enable their harmful behaviours. Even the Judeo-Christian Scriptures remind us that repentance is a part of any sound relational equation. The Scripture says in James 5:16 that we must CONFESS or REPENT to the Lord and to others when appropriated, in order to be healed and to find absolution. It says, in a word, to CONFESS and be healed-not DEFLECT and be healed! You aren't required to 'forgive' anyone in your life who has caused you intentional and prolonged pain and hardship and has no intention of correcting themselves. But you most definitely deserve to be free from them and to move forward, and sometimes reckoning with things as they stand is necessary to do that. I think that beyond the point of unrepentance we must leave people to God. In other words, there are some things that only God is qualified through His Son Jesus Christ, to forgive, especially when that individual is unrepentant. Everyone has their own idea of what forgiveness actually requires and should look like, feel like and be like. From my own experience, there is this misconception that our continued healing and spiritual growth are arrested when we do not automatically forgive others their transgressions. If we 'forgive' deep-seated, complex trauma before processing, this is what actually does more damage than choosing to feel our truest, deepest, darkest feelings about the egregious evils we have endured.

     Furthermore, there is a toxic and quite dangerous rhetoric going around that if someone has erected a healthy boundary to their abusers that this must mean that they are harbouring bitterness and are hindering their own growth. Yet this is, in a lot of cases, a misconception. We are merely leaving the one-sided dialectic which our unrepentant transgressors have left us with and choosing to move on, without giving freely to these individuals something that must be earned. And that, in its own way, is an act of love for both ourself and the other person(s), not only because it leads us away from toxic, self-defeating dynamics, but because it frees the other person(s) to take a good look at themselves if they choose to do so and helps both or all parties involved to grow in a more positive direction. We can all identify with the feeling of indignation that comes along with having been usurped in some way by a fellow human being. And Western society, especially, has a lot to say about how we are supposed to act & feel in these situations. One misconception which we all, I'm sure in some way, been indoctrinated with, is that getting angry at someone else is bad. We shouldn't feel it, & we most certainly are expected to not express it. Yet there are as many variations of this emotion as there are of all of the emotions attendant to the human condition & experience. And one 'shade', if you will, of anger that we have been unfortunately discouraged from owning within ourselves & feeling, is righteous indignation.

     The Judeo-Christian Scripture, for one, shows precedent for allowing such feelings towards our fellow humankind when evil has been enacted upon us and/or those we love & care about. We have not only a right to set boundaries up to those who have ill-intent towards us, but we must set those boundaries if we are to prevent ourselves from falling into the ways of evil ourselves. One Scripture, in particular that I will use as a referential point in this brief essay is found in Psalm 101. The first verse is taken from Psalm 101:3-4: “I will set before my eyes, no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me. Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will nothing to do with evil.” If that doesn't speak for itself, I don't know what does! I often think to myself: “Being a Christian does not mean being an enabler of wickedness, or being a doormat!” It most certainly does not. We are also told by Scripture to “expose the deeds of darkness”. And one very effective way that we can do this is in erecting a foundation of self-respect, so that when we are abused by our fellow humankind, we can stand firm in our disallowance of it. Hating wickedness & injustice is not necessarily equivalent with hating “the perpetrator” him and/or herself. Yet, in all honesty, we must, at least until such time as the danger which they pose has passed, allow for a strong enough dislike or or even contempt of these persons so we can protect ourselves properly from their depraved influences over our spirit & our minds.

     Furthermore, getting back to Psalm 101, there is precedent found in verses 6-8 as well, for the kind of self-protection of which I speak. The verses read thus: “My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence. Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the Lord.” Personally, for me, I am careful to interpret these verses symbolically rather than literally. For example, “my house” could also refer to one's own 'inward dwelling of mind & spirit', as being in need of protection against unsavory, outward influences. Also “the city of the Lord” could also be interpreted as one's innermost being standing firm in righteousness so that the “evildoers” cannot penetrate it. As we can plainly see, our Lord & Saviour most definitely wants us to set up good fences with our fellow humankind, so that we can operate to the fullest efficiency & safety within the bounds of human society at large. And sometimes, this entails the regulation of “the borders”, if you will, so that we ourselves do not fall into the ways of evildoing & wickedness. Yeah, but isn't that “segregation” & being unforgiving, a lot may ask? Yet, there are many instances in Scripture, including those to be found in Psalm 101 which I have included in this brief essay, that not only acknowledge the necessity for this sometimes, but in fact, advise us to practice on a daily basis so that we can keep our discernment between those individuals who are truly “blameless”, & thus possessive of good intent towards us when they “minister to us”, & those who are not. It is thus, a very “Christian” thing to do in taking good care of oneself so that no evil may unduly influence it. It is not about being “hateful”, “stuck-up/elitist”, or “hypocritical”, to not allow ourselves to be abused and/or exploited (whether financially, emotionally, or in some other way) by our fellow human beings. It is about staying on the right path, & making sure that we are empowered from within ourselves to do so by treating ourselves with respect & consideration as regards our own feelings, inward states, & the actualization of our inward talents & skills out in the world. In order to be able to do all of these things, we must nurture ourselves, & protect ourselves from those darker principalities which seek nothing but that of our own enslavement & destruction. Allowing for this kind of kowtowing, does not do anyone any good. Moreover, another issue that I feel needs to be elucidated upon (for my own edification as well), is that of “forgiveness.” Yes, the original “F-Word”.

     First off, I will start out by saying that this is largely the Lord's purview. Secondly, that such an event “takes two to tango”, so to speak. Let me elaborate. I say that forgiveness is largely in the Lord's purview, as He is the only Being to whom anyone must answer (myself included) in the end. Also, it is through the power & grace of the Holy Spirit that my own merely mortal inclination & spiritual skill-set can rise to such a grande gesture as the offering of Absolution for another's transgressions and/or sins. Quite frankly, in and of myself & my own limited, spiritually-feeble human ability, I am just not qualified for that. It's not about an insolent unwillingness to offer forgiveness to someone actively & sincerely seeking it, on the contrary, I feel humbled by the realization that perhaps they should ask God our Father for forgiveness, as I might fall short on my end and therefore do not wish to cause any more damage than has already been done. I just personally don't feel that it is my place to wield that kind of power over another human being, & in fact, I would probably tell them that they shouldn't be offering me that kind of power over them. Nevertheless, all personal idiosyncrasies aside, let's examine what is required for a successful “atonement” between Violator & Violated. What a lot of people don't realize & automatically judge as “harboring a grudge” or as “being unforgiving” is that: The guilty party must first ask for forgiveness to begin with! And, more specifically, this person must be sensed as being sincere to the potentially forgiving party. Yet, even with that part fulfilled, it ain't over yet. The “offender” must also actively seek to not commit the same violation (physical and/or emotional/psychological) upon the “offended” again. In fact, this is a key element required for the completion of any act of contrition/repentance-namely, that we “go & sin no more.” Why not direct all of the energy used to give a lengthy apology into instead self-reflecting & focusing on not doing the same thing again? I've often thought to myself: “Don't say you're sorry, just don't DO IT AGAIN!” That to me, is a truer & more trustworthy sign of atonement. Even the Scripture bears precedent about this being a two-way street. Scripture even makes an allowance, in the event that our offender is unwilling to make amends with us, to go our separate way & to move on the best that we can. Moreover, Romans reminds us that “all have sinned & fallen short the glory of God.” But this does not preclude each person's right to choose what elements to let in & what elements to keep out of themselves & their homes & their lives. It's not always about “passing judgment on other people”, but is often merely about “securing the perimeters for oneself” so that one properly govern oneself & take accountability for oneself, as we are instructed to do by our Father in Heaven. As G.K. Chesterton once put it: “Good fences make for good neighbours.” And these “fences” exist both from without & from within the minds & hearts of each individual person.

     In fact, “good”, and conscientious Christians are mindful about not only how they treat others, but of how they allow or don't allow themselves to be treated by others. In a word, if I don't first respect myself, how in the world will I ever be able to teach myself how to respect & to love others? It all starts at home, indeed. Fundamentally, we are all created equal by Our Father in Heaven, and seen as equal in His eyes. “For God does not show favourtism.” Yet we each are also required, as He would not violate the sanctity of our freedom of choice, to willingly submit and to prostrate ourselves before Him, and before those whom we may have wronged when we seek absolution. As some Christians are fond of putting it: “It's about what's in our hearts that the Lord sees & cares about.” We just must be careful not give sway to “popular” opinion regarding our own feelings when we have been transgressed by another and/or others, & allow ourselves to disown those negative emotions or to feel ashamed or unworthy of them. All this does, is give power to the destructive forces that are at play within the transgressor and the situation at large. It is perfectly okay to feel angry, or indignant when you have been unjustly maimed in some way. It, like all things, is about what we do with our feelings & thoughts which determines whether they end up doing harm or good from within ourselves and then, out in the world.

     But, we have to feel to deal, and we have to deal, in order that we may finally, heal. But yes, it is also okay, should someone who has hurt you come to you, sincerely asking for your forgiveness, to grant it to them under your own conditions. In my eyes, no matter how deeply another's transgression may have wounded me, an act of genuine contrition on their end is worth a whole lot more in the long run. And often the hardest and trickiest part often comes down to forgiving ourselves first, when we have erred or hurt someone else. But, we all must earn that part, just as we also must re-earn another's trust whenever we have trespassed against them. And we also have a right to expect others who have trespassed against us to earn their keep as well. This makes for good human relations, all around. Contrary to popular sentiment, righteous indignation and good boundaries in the face of evil indicate fierce love, for ourselves, and others. If we do not first hold our ‘enemies’ accountable, we quickly lose our sense of justice and morality. Read in tandem with Matthew 5:44-45, the Scriptures which address accountability and rightful rebuke demonstrate this very clearly to those who call themselves Children Of God. (see Matthew 18:15; Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, John 7:24; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Galatians 6:5) If we do not enforce the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, especially in the face of those whose intent is to act lawlessly and heinously outside the bounds of that commandment, we all become lost and morally impoverished.   

     Many also neglect to take into account, those crimes and sins against others of a more psychological and emotional variance. Human society has always struggled to give validation to those who have been victims of things such as childhood abuse (physical, emotional, mental, sexual, ambient, etc.). This is, in part, due not only to a fear of these things being brought into the light on the part of the survivors, but mainly a fear of exposure on the part of the perpetrators. Yet we are told in Psalm 51:6 that “surely (The Lord) desires truth in the inmost parts.” This is why the Enemy often uses many different tactics to keep people from engaging in that crucial self-reflection which is an absolute cornerstone of psycho-spiritual growth and fruitfulness. This is perhaps the most important boundary that we must commit to erecting and maintaining: The boundary of self-awareness and self-governance. If we never work out who we are and what we will and will not stand for, as the adage goes, we will fall for anything, at least eventually. As within, so without. As I work on developing myself and on edifying myself and on healing myself, this is an act of ultimate moral refinement and true heroism being undertaken. As within, so without. As I learn how to love myself, and how to honour my own sense of right and wrong, I also empower myself to be able to love and ultimately, defend others.

     Thus, to all who equate righteous indignation and moral integrity with malice and rancour, woe unto he who calls good, evil. Yet blessed indeed is he who, in realizing the error of his thinking and his being and his doing, repents and embraces the Truth, no matter the cost. For now, he is an unshakeable Child of the King, and though he may stumble, shall never face eternal condemnation. Yet even if he chooses the Lies and the Darkness, Heirs of Christ shall continue to demonstrate their fierce love and concern for the wicked, by bringing them to their knees to the foot of the cross, through the diligent application of Truth-telling and Truth-living. Summary: I'll say it again: Erecting a boundary against abuse (overt or covert) is NOT the same thing as 'holding a grudge' against someone. Nevertheless, the Scripture ACTUALLY says, "He who is angry at his brother WITHOUT A CAUSE is in danger of judgment." (Matthew 5:22) Furthermore, the Scripture also says, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, IF HE REPENTS, forgive him..." (Luke 17:3) We are instructed throughout Scripture to hold one another accountable if we truly care about creating a godly and just society in which everyone can thrive and do His bidding in the world.

-Valerie Lynn Stephens

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