Last weekend I saw the movie Sabina, which chronicles the early years of Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand’s marriage. They hadn’t been Christians very long when they started to risk their lives to spread the Gospel and help Jews escape Romania during WWII.
The movie isn’t as action-packed as Tortured for Christ, which focuses on Richard’s prison experiences. Instead, Sabina moves thoughtfully through the couple’s lifestyle choices, good and bad, that lead them to becoming believers amid WWII’s upheaval.
But the last fifteen minutes of Sabina undid me. Without giving away any spoilers, it demonstrated what forgiveness in the face of an impossible situation truly looks like. Would I be able to do the same?
I don’t know.
I do know that Americanized Christianity tends to twist the concept of forgiveness. So let’s debunk seven myths about it.
Myth 1: “Forgive and forget.”
That is not a biblical concept. It’s also physiologically impossible.
Myth 2: Forgiveness is a one-and-done act.
Forgiveness may start with a spiritual watershed moment, but it’s a process. It’ll likely require more moments with God to reaffirm that you are no longer bringing up charges against that person.
Myth 3: Forgiveness is an emotion.
It’s an act of the will—a choice. Emotions don’t fuel forgiveness.
Myth 4: Forgiveness must be two-sided to work.
People who wrong you may never feel the need to ask your forgiveness for what they’ve done. In fact, they may refuse any overture of kindness or reconciliation on your part. That’s out of your control. Simply do what you can to live in peace. If they refuse to be at peace with you, that’s their fault.
Myth 5: Forgiving someone will take away all the pain from being wronged.
No, it won’t. But it will take away the grip it has on your life that would keep you from moving beyond the wrong.
Myth 6: Forgiveness means you’ll passively let a person harm you again.
Love never aids and abets the sin of another. Set healthy boundaries; limit your interaction with a person if need be. Speak the truth in love. Most of all, don’t give in to their manipulation. They may try to use those boundaries against you as “proof” that you haven’t really forgiven them.
Myth 7: Forgiving someone means you won’t seek justice.
That myth may be the biggest stumbling block for Christians wrestling with forgiveness.
Forgiveness and justice aren’t mutually exclusive.
Forgiveness doesn’t simply ignore the wrong, either.
Longing for justice is legitimate, but the hitch is to let God deal with it. Only He knows the perfect measure of justice to mete out—in the perfect way, at the perfect time.
An outdated idea?
To many people in today’s hair-trigger accusatory world, forgiveness seems outdated. But forgiveness unleashes God’s power to move freely in our lives and in the lives of those who sin against us. Forgiveness is God’s truth in action.
How can I withhold forgiveness when Christ has already forgiven me of so much more?
Maybe no one can fully answer that question until God confronts their faith with a serious test—one that says, “you either believe what God says or you don’t. Now put your money where your mouth is.”
Forgiveness in action
In 1947, Corrie ten Boom was delivering a message about forgiveness in one of Munich’s bombed-out churches when a former Nazi guard came up to her and asked her forgiveness. He had been in Ravensbrück, where Corrie’s sister, Betsie, had died. In Corrie’s words:
“… I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion … Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’”
Fight and forgive on your knees
Pulsing underneath every physical conflict is spiritual conflict. Friends, I think that’s ramping up—and so the rest of this year and beyond will put us to the test regarding forgiveness. Christians worldwide are being persecuted more now than ever in history. The world groans with Ukraine’s travail. But as the dust settles on every conflict great and small, forgiveness will be the only way to truly move forward and heal. May we respond as Christ would!
Father God, thank you for sending Christ to die on the Cross to cancel the sin debt we could never pay. Thank you that Christ absorbed all the penalty and consequences of my sin and restored me to right relationship with God. Thank you for Christ’s forgiveness. Empower us to do the same for others. In your powerful Name. Amen.
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1989 interview with Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand