I get the emails or comments on this blog all the time: “My husband confessed he uses porn, and I can’t get past it. How do I forgive him?” Or “my wife had an affair and I can’t see my way through this. How can I ever treat her normally again?”

Forgiveness is hard.

A while ago I reviewed Vicki Tiede’s book When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography, and she said something very interesting about forgiveness. In essence, she said that God does not ask us to forgive in a way that He does not. He asks us to forgive AS He forgives. And how does He forgive? He forgives fully and graciously, but only when people repent and turn to Him. He doesn’t forgive everybody.

1 John 1:9 says:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all  unrighteousness.

The confession comes before the forgiveness.

Jesus’ blood covers everyone’s sins, but it is only applied to those who repent. And if that’s how God forgives, then God does not ask us to forgive lightly, either. God does not say that if someone confesses a sin, but doesn’t really turn from it, or doesn’t really have any intention of changing, that we need to forgive.

I thought about that long and hard, because that’s quite contrary to what I’ve normally thought about forgiveness. Yet Vicki makes a good point.

She says that “cheap forgiveness” can do more harm than good.

Let’s say a guy is addicted to porn, for instance, and his wife finds out. He acts all contrite because he knows he’s in trouble, and asks her to forgive him. She does, because she feels that she has to, and so she tries her best to treat him exactly the same as before. He goes on sneaking around behind her back again because there is no need to actually change.

God wants us to do the hard work of healing and repentance, and if we offer forgiveness quickly, when there is no change of heart, we take away the need to do that hard work.

I agree with her. I do. And yet I was uncomfortable with this line of thinking. I have tended to think of forgiveness as something we offer partly for ourselves. We grant forgiveness because it frees US. We can’t carry around this anger anymore, and we can’t live always tied to something from the past. We need to walk forward with God.

Perhaps much of this problem is that we mean so many different things by the word “forgiveness”. Vicki was using it to mean a fully restored relationship: you cannot have a fully restored relationship if there has not been a change of heart from the one who has done wrong. Reconciliation demands true honesty and repentance.

But there is an element of forgiveness that does not depend on the other person, and this is how I’ve come to see it:

"To me, forgiveness means taking the hurt, no matter what it is, and placing it in God’s hands and saying: I don’t want it anymore. Take it from me. I leave it to You to bring justice. I leave it to You to work out dealing with my offender. I leave it to You to fight for me. As for me, I will walk forward, with this left behind me."

That’s saying, “God, I believe that you are a just God who loves me and will go to battle for me and will work out your purposes for me and for this person, and so I trust you. I’m not going to try to manipulate the circumstances or extract an apology or demand restitution. I’ll leave it all up to you, and I trust you with it.”