Q: My boyfriend was abusive so we broke up. He’s been wanting to get back together and when I said no he questioned whether I had actually forgiven him for all he had done. (I told him I had.) If I refuse to get back together with him does that mean I haven’t really forgiven him?
There is a common belief that REAL forgiveness is best seen by extending to the offending person a second chance (or third or fourth or fifth chance, whichever the case may be). Any refusal to do this is seen as proof positive that forgiveness was never truly offered. This idea is so strong, even among Christians, that some believers will actually withhold forgiveness because they are afraid of letting the offending person back into their lives for fear of those offenses being repeated.
But is that true? Does your refusal to let someone back into your life prove that you haven’t forgiven them or that you're somehow judging them for their wrongs?
There is a story recorded in 1 Samuel that helps to give some understanding to this matter. Chapter 26 records the events of a time when David was on the run from King Saul because the king wanted David dead. However, when Saul came out to pursue David, the Lord created circumstances in which David had the advantage and an opportunity to kill Saul while he slept. But David refused to take Saul’s life.
When King Saul discovered that David had spared his life, the king openly and publicly expressed deep regret for his actions. Furthermore, he encouraged David to return home with promises that no harm would ever come to him. He said “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake.” (1 Samuel 26:21) But the chapter ends by saying, David went his way, and Saul returned to his place. (1 Samuel 26:25)
David chose to forgive Saul for all the evil and cruelty he had displayed in the past, but when urged to “forgive and forget,” David wisely chose to keep his distance. He knew that words alone weren’t any kind of proof that Saul had changed his ways. Sadly, Saul’s life ended with no real transformation.
This passage shows that true forgiveness CAN take place without reopening one’s life once again to someone who has only offered words of regret and nothing else. But let me end by saying that there ARE times when someone who previously caused hurt in the lives of others has truly given their life to Jesus and changed for the better. I’ve seen it happen many times. The key is to look for the FRUIT of change (this is called repentance) and a genuine determination in that person to follow Jesus.