“Have you forgiven your ex-wife?”
Let’s assume this person has not already passed judgment and condemned you as “bitter.” In other words, they are asking this question in good faith and out of genuine love for you.
My response would be:
What do you mean by “forgiven?”
The answer to this question will tell you a lot about this person’s understanding–or lack thereof–of forgiveness.
If the inquisitive Christian is open to dialogue and understanding, this question may open the avenue to a conversation resulting in a deeper relationship.
Of course, if the inquiring Christian has already passed judgment upon you, the door to deeper relationship was closed even before the conversation began, sadly.
“I mean moved on from that ugly episode,” says “Concerned” Christian.
An amputee from a car accident caused by a drunk driver may have forgiven that driver. But that does not mean the amputee will be able to forget or escape the consequences every day from that awful trauma.
We may have forgiven our ex-spouses for cheating on us, but that does not mean we live free from the nasty impact of those sinful choices they made. Somethings cannot be undone.
That life was “amputated” from us in a most violent way. Sometimes old memories will resurface from time to time to remind us of that. It does not mean, though, we have failed to forgive the perpetrator of that evil.
“I mean forgive and forget.”
See the previous analogy. Discovering a cheating spouse is not an experience one ever forgets. But just because we remember the discovery day in technicolor does not mean we are bitter.
That memory is a good thing to some degree. You see, God made us in such a way that we do not forget important information that puts our well-being at risk. It is burned into our brains, so to speak.
Remembering that this person is untrustworthy and put you at risk of STDs is not a sign of unforgiveness. It is wisdom that one can choose to ignore–by “forgetting”–or to inform future actions.
“I mean have you stop holding what she did against her.”
This is closer to the mark. I agree that we need to let go of the “PUNISHER” role if we are truly to forgive our cheating exes. However, I suspect many confuse natural consequences with punishing behavior. They are not the same.
-It is NOT punishing behavior to relate to a cheater as to one who is a known liar. In fact, I would consider it foolish to relate to such a person in any other way knowing them to have behaved as such.
-It is NOT punishing behavior to share factual history about what ended the marriage–e.g. “Our marriage ended with my ex cheating and lying about the Other Man for months.” Forgiveness does not change the facts of history.
-It is NOT punishing behavior, in the appropriate setting, to name what happened as evil and honestly share how it harmed you. This is acknowledging what happened for what it is–evil. And it is recounting the history of how that evil impacted you. Again, forgiveness does not change the facts.
Finally, the question about forgiveness is suggestive as if forgiveness is a simple one-time task. It isn’t. Forgiveness is a process like healing is a process.
It takes time.
Like healing a deep wound, forgiving a deep wrong will take much time under usual circumstances. It does not happen overnight.
Have you forgiven your ex-wife?
By God’s grace, I believe I have. I do not feel the impulse to violently repay her for what she did to me. My anger has mostly subsided.
But that does not mean I never have days–now years removed–where I have to remind myself that I have chosen to let go of the PUNISHER role leaving the matter to God. It is a process.
And God understands. Plus, God does not condemn me even if other Christians might (see Romans 8:1).
*A version of this was posted previously.