We often say we have forgiven someone. But have we really? How can we be sure? It is crucial to us that we forgive people who have wronged us, and the forgiveness must be from our heart (complete). God says to us, “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26). Ouch!

If we wonder whether or not we have really forgiven someone, we can allow the Holy Spirit to ask us the following insightful questions:

  1. Are we willing to pray for that person’s welfare?
  2. Are we willing to help and do good for that person?
  3. Are we willing not to gossip about that person, especially when their name comes up in a conversation?
  4. Are we willing to ask God not to punish them or hold anything against them for what they did to us?
  5. Do we have inner peace about it?
  6. Are we still “grinding an ax” against them in our thought life?

We can forgive someone and yet still not want to be around them due to what they stand for or what they do. Forgiving someone also does not mean that we trust them either. Some people will not repent or change for the better. I don’t see the Bible telling us we have to yoke ourselves with them. I guess I would call this “forgiving from a distance.” In most cases, however, we will be side-by-side with those who have offended us from time to time and we must be willing to forgive.

Are there levels of forgiveness? My initial thought is that we either we do it or we don’t. I guess I still stand by that, but I also realize that there are degrees of “aftermath” from an incident. Trust, for example, may take a long time to be restored, if ever. God never tells us to trust in any human, however. There may be long-lasting repercussions resulting from the offense and the forgiver must work through those things.

If we struggle with forgiving someone, it may reflect some problems with RECEIVING God’s forgiveness for ourselves. This does not involve us forgiving ourselves. Surprisingly, the Bible never tells us to do this. If we are in Christ, our sin as been resolved (Romans 8:1). The closer we are to Him, and the more we realize how much we have been forgiven, the more love and ability to forgive others we have (Luke 7:47). Therefore, the solution to this problem may be repenting, getting into His Word, and allow His love to flood us. When we love Him, we love others (1 John 2:9-12).

If any of you readers feel you have not forgiven someone as you think about this topic, I strongly urge you to go to God in prayer and ask Him to help you, if you think you just cannot forgive someone. I’ve had to do this on two occasions. It worked both times. Thank God, I am free. No unforgiveness or bitterness is chaining me down.

PT – This is a tough one, Dave. I recently have been visiting an Urban church that has just gone through a split. The pastor is trying to salvage what is left of the church and is preaching on forgiving one another and going to them and reconcile. Looks like pride is the problem, and I say that because it is what “I” do, a lot. I don’t want to carry the burden of someone who differs from me and yet I know that if I separate from them I am no better than the pagan who readily writes someone off they don’t agree with. I tried to mention the beatitudes of loving one’s enemies to a group at this church and was readily put in my place and told boundaries were violated and separation is called for sometimes. Yes, if violence or abuse is the problem, but I will continue to do good and remember that it cost God a lot to forgive me–His own Son. God did not give up on me, neither will I others and bear the burden, a cross, to love others as God loved me.

Dave to PT – Thanks for your comments. I cannot comment about that church split and the so-called “boundaries that were violated” because I do not know enough about that situation, but it seems to me that you have the right attitude and solution. First, you see and admit to wrong attitudes that you can have. Most people do not. Second, you have tried to make peace. Jesus calls you blessed for that. Third, “violating boundaries” is not up there with blaspheming the Holy Spirit, so I hope they can seek God and ask His help to make things right.

Patricia P – This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for the last few months. A very good friend has been stealing from me. She’s been a friend for years and we had this same problem 2 years ago. We didn’t see or speak to each other for several months back then. I read my Bible a lot, especially about forgiving, and finally went to see her. She admitted what she’d done and promised it would never happen again. I forgave her, we talked, cried, and became really close again. She spends a lot of time in my home and, many times she’s inside my house while I’m outside doing yard work. I started noticing a few things missing but nothing too big or important to me so I kind of let it slide. I began getting nervous and uptight, telling myself that it couldn’t possibly be happening again. A couple of weeks later, I purposely left a few things out in the open while I went outside. After she left, I went to see if my things were still where I left them and they were gone. I was shocked, saddened, and heartbroken. I talked about it with my sister, who was surprised I forgave her the first time. I told my sis that I have again forgiven my old friend, but I can no longer be friends with her. She’s no longer welcome in my home. I miss her terribly but am getting used to not having her around. I don’t trust her at all now and just can’t be her friend and welcome her in my home. I feel terrible about it but it has to be this way. Do you think I’m doing the right thing? The whole thing really bothers me a lot but I just can’t see her or be around her anymore.

Dave – Thanks for the great question. Overall, I think you’ve done well with your situation. My first question is what did you talk about when confronting her that first time? Do you know why she stole from you. Friends don’t steal from friends unless drug abuse is involved. Your friend obviously has a serious problem and needs help. It doesn’t sound like she steals money from you but, of course she could be selling them for money. Is she willing to get help? Pray that she gets it. As far as allowing her in your home is concerned, I agree with what you have made clear to her. As I’ve said, forgiving is not necessarily equated with trusting. If you’re concerned about not having a close friend, ask God to provide one. He loves His kids, and you are one of His kids.

In His Love,

Patricia P – She was stealing my pain medication and once in a while loose change from my change bank. The drugs were the big thing though. I guess I didn’t help though since there a few times when I could see she was in a lot of pain, I’d give her one of my pills. Then, she started asking me for them and I asked her to stop asking and that I shouldn’t have given her any since I short myself. She seemed to understand and said she wouldn’t ask anymore. That’s when I started noticing my supply was dwindling. I actually caught her one day and told her to leave my house and not to come back.

Months later I went to see her and she cried, we talked and she admitted to taking the pills. he apologized up and down and said it would never happen again. Again, I gave her a pill every now and then since I knew she was in pain. She’s been to the emergency room many times for severe neck and back pain, had MRI’s and was told she had serious problems in her neck. She’s never gone to see doctors because she doesn’t have a primary care doctor who could refer her to specialists.

Long story short, she began taking my pills again, and even coming to my house when I wasn’t home and using my back door to get in. I caught her again and this time just had to make a final break and not see her anymore. I still miss her company a lot but have to get over it. I pray for her a lot and ask God if I’m doing the right thing. She was beginning to come to church with me and we talked about reading the Bible. She knows I read mine every day and she started asking me questions. I’m sad about not being able to bring her to church anymore but if I do that, I’ll start things up all over again and I just can’t do that. I tried to get her to go to a doctor and get some help with her pain but she doesn’t want to spend the money. I guess it’s her choice. I have forgiven her but can’t be around her anymore.

Dave – If she is willing to go to church with you, and if she is asking questions about our faith, I suggest going to your pastor and see if he could organize some folks to give money for your friend’s doctor appointment. If money is collected for her, I would not give her the cash. Someone can hold it for her, go with her to the appointment, and pay the doctor for her. This would be a good witness to the love and care Christians have for others. It also may cause your friend to come to church more and read the Bible for herself. Our church has a separate fund for these kinds of cases, maybe yours does too. It’s worth finding out.