Myth 5: You must forgive and forget, over and over, forever.
TRUTH: Christians can forgive AND get out of a destructive marriage.
This myth says you must forgive—and trust and reconcile again—after every abuse and betrayal. If you give up too soon, says this myth, you will surely miss a miracle.
Some people believe that verbal repentance and tears show true remorse and change, and therefore you must reconcile. They claim that if your spouse cries, confesses, claims to be “the worst sinner I know,” and otherwise puts on an emotional spectacle of remorse, this myth says that a good Christian spouse must take them back and stay married to them, remaining tied to them emotionally, physically, financially, and sexually.
We’ve all been told stories of women in terrible marriages who stayed and suffered and prayed for years, and miraculously today she and her husband are tremendously happy. These exceptions are held up as common. They are not. Serial adulterers, pedophiles, and abusers have poor success rates and are often treatment failures.
If someone says you are obligated to put up with a pattern of abuse, neglect, or sexual immorality, they are out of bounds. You and you alone know what you’re going through and how much you can endure.
Reject any and all versions of this myth:
- “You are sinning because you refuse to give your spouse another chance.”
- “You must forgive and trust your spouse again. You must go the extra mile forever.”
- “You are unforgiving if you divorce.”
- “You cannot demand good behavior. That is not being submissive.”
- "If you've forgiven and taken him (or her) back, you cannot divorce them unless they do something new and worse, because forgiveness erases all the past.
- "You must 'Love your enemy' meaning letting them treat you any way they want."
- "You cannot hold them responsible for anything done in the past because you are to 'keep no record of wrongs.'"
Look for the Pattern: Pattern of Abuse, or Pattern of Repentance and Change?
The Bible says there will be people who are in the church—even church leaders—who do wrong and just won’t change.
But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. —1 Corinthians 5:11 (CSB)
But sometimes your friends or pastor will insist that you ignore your God-given instincts and give it another chance. This is not biblical. Jesus calls his followers to forgive, but he doesn’t call them to trust again or to reconcile unilaterally.
The Bible instructs us to look for “fruits of repentance”—evidence of sustained change over time, not just sporadic fits of remorse with more abuse in between. (To learn more about this, and about the Abuse Cycle, see Chapter 4). Paul says we are to live in peace with everyone, “as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18, NIV). He’s saying the other person may never become a good, trustworthy person. In the end, some people feel entitled to continue in their destructive ways. This makes it impossible to live in peace with them. To live in peace, you need to get away.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you need to entrust your safety and peace of mind to a person who has a pattern of hurting you. In fact, Scripture tells us to get away from angry, divisive, or destructive people.
Eph 5:3-7 NIVBut among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
Eph 5:11-13 NIVHave nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
2 Tim 3:1-5 NIVBut mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. —1 Timothy 5:8
We can love them, forgive them, and still follow the biblical commands to get away from them. We are not called to hate them. We can divorce (or separate) and walk away. Perhaps they will learn their lesson when they lose a spouse.
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person; do not associate with one easily angered… —Proverbs 22:24 (NIV)
The Apostle Paul warns his fellow Christians about those who pick fights and cause hurt and division.
Paul says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:9-10, NIV).
Living in peace is important to God.
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