Forgiveness is one of the hardest issues to confront following an affair. Many who have been cheated on either state, “I can’t forgive them” or “I don’t know how to forgive them.” In my personal journey of recovery, I knew early on that forgiveness was not an option but a requirement for me.
It’s For Your Benefit, Not Theirs
In my opinion, withholding forgiveness is like a disease. It will eventually consume you and take over your entire life. The hurt and pain are real. It has emotional and physical effects on your body. Simply speaking, you are holding on to the hurt rather than releasing it and expelling it from your system. You can try treatment in the form of therapy and counseling, but it’s a temporary fix. If you divorced over the affair and never forgave, you’ll carry that devastation with you into the next relationship and it can slowly kill that one. Forgiveness is a miracle healing that when truly discovered, cures YOU!
The Model For Forgiveness
I’ve discovered that there is no way to understand how forgiveness is possible apart from the biblical explanation. As a Christian, I know that God’s forgiveness offered to me is NOT based on my actions (Eph. 2:8-9). It is NOT based on how good I am, or the good things I have done. The truth is, there is nothing I could humanly do to earn God’s forgiveness for my sins.
God offers forgiveness based on the life of His Son, Jesus. The sole purpose of Jesus’ life on earth was to be the only acceptable sacrifice to pay the penalty for the sins of all people (Rom 8:1-4). Jesus’ death satisfied God’s judgment for sin once and for all. He offers it freely to all who will accept. It can’t be earned. The biblical framework for forgiveness is based solely on who God is, not what we do. Therefore, as a Christian, when I withhold forgiveness from anyone, God has the right to say, “Who are you to withhold forgiveness from others when I so freely offered it to you?” Ouch! That’s a condemning thought.
One of the best examples of the kind of forgiveness that God offers through Jesus is found in John 8:1-11. The religious leaders brought a woman before Jesus who had been known to have committed adultery. Honestly, those religious leaders could care less about the nature of the sin. Their purpose in bringing the woman to Jesus was a test to see if He would apply the Jewish laws to her situation (which required she be stoned to death) or suggest she be released thereby contradicting Jewish law.
Jesus put it very simply when he said to those religious leaders,
“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
There was no debate. No argument. Jesus never went into a discussion about the nature of her sin or her behavior. He didn’t even question the woman’s heart or whether she was sorry. When the religious leaders heard His answer, they all left. Standing alone with the woman, Jesus said,
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Scholars may debate whether or not Jesus actually forgave her. That is not the point. Jesus makes no mention of the nature of the sins of the religious leaders, but only points out that they were all sinners, just like the woman who committed adultery. The point is, He showed her mercy and called her to repentance rather than passing judgment on her according to Jewish law. Jesus said,
“For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” John 12:47 NIV
If she had asked for forgiveness, He would have granted it on the spot. Again, the greater point is who are we to determine who is forgiven and who is not based on the sin they’ve committed?
When we fail to forgive, it’s really an offense to God because He has so graciously offered forgiveness to us. In Part II of this series on forgiveness, I’ll explore further how to actually forgive; why no sin is beyond forgiveness; and what to do about the serial cheater.