Corrie had a wonderful ministry, traveling around the world, telling of the amazing things God had done. Then one day, she woke up with God saying, “Germany.” She said, No, God, don’t you remember all the awful things they did? How I suffered and how my sister and father suffered and died at the Nazi’s hands?” She continued her ministry, but it entered a dry period and when she prayed, she just heard, “Germany.” Finally, after a long battle with her emotions, she submitted, and filled with God’s love for the Germans, went to Germany, preaching God’s love, and the offer of forgiveness. She saw many repent and their relationship restored. She was even able able to go to a jail and spot one woman hiding in the shadows. Then Corrie realized that this had been one of those mean guards, who caused her to suffer. She was able to talk to her, tell her of the forgiveness God offered and see her repent in tears. With the repentance, their relationship was restored.
My marriage was failing. Each time my wife did something horrible, I forgave her, without her repentance. Each time she had something against me, I repented. I turned into a Christian doormat. The net result was we compromised 50/50, the first time. Then, not honoring that, I had to compromise again, so now it was 25/75, then 12/88, 6/94, etc. I found that I had given up everything that was important in my life. Now, I am not talking about giving up smoking and drinking, but giving up my Christian friends, my church, my Christian work. I was systematically isolated. Finally, it was not enough, and I ended up divorced, feeling like a worthless human and withdrawn, fearful of facing reality. My children now tell me that they were afraid at that time that I was not going to make it. I had been put into a situation where I no longer had any money, any job, any career, any house, and any hope. Where did I go wrong? I cried to God, saying, “I am at the end of my rope. I see no way out, but I’ll hang on to see if you can get me out of this mess.” Then, I clung desperately to that rope.
As I prayed desperately, I heard God say, there are three here. You can want no divorce, I can want no divorce, but I have given your wife free will. Your wife can and has chosen the divorce, and I will not interfere with her free choice, though she may pay the consequences. This was important for me to begin the letting go process. Some time later, I was praying for her repentance. God said, “Stop praying, she will never repent.” I cried, both for her, and because I had truly come to the point of accepting the finality. In my broken state, I had clung to the hope of restoration far too long.
I began searching the scriptures very carefully. I had followed the teaching on forgiveness as taught in the church. After all, the Lord’s prayer says, “Forgive us out debts as we have forgiven our debtors.” I had done this and become a doormat and ended devastated. The problem is if we accept an interpretation and it conflicts with other scriptures, the interpretation is wrong. This interpretation, that “we must forgive even if the other doesn’t repent,” violates other scriptures. Take Matt 18:16-29. After talking to the disciples about how to deal with a sin in another (privately, 2-3 elders, whole church) then if he refuses to listen (ie doesn’t repent), treat him like a Gentile (nonbeliever). Peter then asks, “If he sins, how often do I forgive him, seven times?” Jesus replies, “not seven times but seventy times seven.” Put this with Luke 17:4, “If he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Notice that similarly, God has paid for the forgiveness, but it is not applied to us until after we repent, otherwise all the unrepentant sinners would go to heaven.
Still, I struggled. Did this mean I could rejoice in her suffering? Could I pray for her to suffer? Ps 35:7-8 “For without cause they hid their net for me; Without cause they dug a pit for my soul. Let destruction come upon him unawares, And let the net which he hid catch himself; Into that very destruction let him fall.” This pit beckoned to me so enticingly. To avoid the pit, I first had to apply to her the “let her be like an unbeliever” if she doesn’t repent. At first, I hadn’t separated myself and even after the divorce, she would manipulate me and I suffered financially and in other major ways. This clear separation was vital. Later, I warned my parents that she had not repented and could be dangerous to deal with. They thought I was still angry, and so listened to her about a matter. When drug dealers started hanging around their house, they realized that they could never deal with her again. I maintain this separation, not because of what she had done in the past, but because I knew that if i let her back into my life in some capacity, she could hurt me and I would be sucked back into the painful trap.
This, though wasn’t enough. The anger was still eating me. For years, at night, my mind would enter the same angry rut, and I couldn’t sleep. I could only stop and sleep if I turned on the TV to some boring science channel, and left it there all night. I only got over the anger when I released it, got filled with God’s love for her, and like God, stood ready to forgive if she ever repented. This did several things. I stopped talking about how bad she was and how good I was. I was healed and could sleep without the TV. I stopped trying to get tidbits from the kids about how bad she was. Finally, I, maintaining that protective separation, was able to move on with my life. After 5 years of healing, I was able to start dating, and after 10 years, met my wonderful wife with whom we have a constructive relationship, helping each other grow in Godliness. Remember how forgiveness without repentance lead me to being a doormat, but separation with release, love, and offering to forgive if she repented lead me to healing and strength. May you not be trapped by this bad doctrine of needing to forgive without their repentance.