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On The Brink of Divorce
ON THE BRINK OF DIVORCE
"We Can't Ever Be Close Again"
By Ken Sande
Rick could not forgive his wife's adultery. Even though Pam had given every evidence of repentance and had begged for his forgiveness, the offense stood between them like a towering wall. (Names have been changed).
As a Christian, Rick knew that he should forgive Pam. So to appease his conscience, he told her, "I forgive you, but I can't ever be close to you again."
His hollow words only increased their hopelessness. Soon divorce seemed to be the only way to end the pain.
When Rick came to see me a month later and unfolded his story, it was clear that his bitterness was contributing to the destruction of their marriage. His empty "forgiveness" had no power to dispel the memory of Pam's adultery, which was a dark cloud over their relationship.
There was only one genuine way to put the past behind them: true forgiveness --- not the meaningless statement that Rick had made to appease his conscience, but the rich, redeeming, thoroughly cleansing forgiveness described in Scripture and modeled by our Lord.
To demonstrate to Rick the hypocrisy of his empty statement, I said, "Rick, imagine that you had just confessed a serious sin to God, and that he responded audibly, saying, 'I forgive you, Rick, but I can't ever be close to you again.' How would you feel?"
After an awkward pause, he replied, "I guess I'd feel like God hadn't really forgiven me."
"But isn't that exactly the way you are forgiving Pam?" I asked. Rick looked at the floor, wrestling for an answer.
The Four Promises of Forgiveness
I continued gently, "Imagine if instead God said, 'Rick, I promise never to think about your sin again, or to dwell on it or to brood over it. I promise never to bring it up and use it against you. I promise not to talk to others about it. And I promise not to let it stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.'"
After a long silence, tears began to fill Rick's eyes. "I would know I was completely forgiven...But I wouldn't deserve that kind of forgiveness after the way I've treated Pam."
"Would you ever deserve it?" I asked him. "God's forgiveness is a free gift, purchased for you by Jesus' death on the cross. He doesn't forgive you because you've earned it. He forgives you to display his glory and the riches of his grace. When you truly understand how precious and undeserved his forgiveness is, you will want to forgive Pam the same way he has forgiven you."
"I know I should," he answered, "but how could I ever keep the four promises you just described? I can't imagine forgetting what Pam did! And I just don't feel like I could ever be close to her again."
"Where does the Bible say that
forgiveness is forgetting?...or that it depends on feelings?" I
asked, "Forgiveness is an act of the will, Rick, a decision you
make in spite of your feelings. Of course it's hard, especially
in a case like this. But if you ask for God's help as you make
those four promises to Pam, he will give you the grace to follow
through on them."
Forgive to Forget
After another thirty minutes of discussion, we prayed together, and Rick's doubts and fears were overcome. An hour later, he met with Pam to confess his sin of bitterness and unforgiveness. When she repeated how sorry she was, he responded with these words.
"Honey, I want to forgive you the way God has forgiven me. With his help, I promise not to dwell on this any more. I promise never to bring it up and use it against you. I promise never to talk to others about it. And I promise not to let it stand between us or hinder our relationship."
Pam fell sobbing into his arms. Rick's commitment to true forgiveness marked the beginning of their healing process. It would take many hours of counseling to address the root causes of their marital problems. But within two weeks, Rick told me that the four promises of forgiveness were really working.
"After I promised not to think about Pam's sin," he said, "I realized that the burden had shifted to me. Now when I catch myself thinking about what she did, I confess to God that I am breaking my word. I ask for his help and then focus my thoughts on the immensity of his forgiveness toward me or on Pam's good qualities."
"I praise God for his healing. The negative memories have started to fade, and I am beginning to love my wife again!"
What the World Needs to See
What about you? When others desire your forgiveness, don't communicate: I forgive you, but I can't ever be close to you again. When you do, you destroy not only your relationships but also your ability to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When Christians forgive others with empty words, they send a message that God's forgiveness has little value. Why would anyone seek God's forgiveness if he believes that God will still hold him at arm's length for eternity?
On the other hand, if you practice the radical forgiveness found in Scripture and summarized in the Four Promises of Forgiveness, there is no limit to the good that will follow. In addition to preserving precious relationships, you will send the message that God's forgiveness tears down every wall completely and forever. What could better glorify God and prepare the way for others to hear about Jesus Christ?
Copyright 1999 Peacemaker Ministries Permission is granted to copy and distribute this story in its entirety, for non-commercial purposes, for friends, or as a church bulletin or newsletter insert.
The mission of Peacemaker Ministries is to equip and assist Christians to respond to conflict biblically. They provide conflict counseling, mediation, arbitration services to resolve church and business disputes, lawsuits, and family conflicts. They equip church leaders, adults, and children for peacemaking through educational resources, seminars, and Conciliator Training and Certification.