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Does Forgiveness Have Boundaries?

I have been asked the question “do I have to forgive someone if they have abused me and just keep taking the abuse from them”? It is important to understand that personal forgiveness is distinct from boundaries and consequences. I think the clearest way to think about it is to break those three different components down this way.

If some has abused you emotionally, physically or sexually, your forgiving them essentially means that you personally do not wish to inflict on them the same harm they inflicted on you. To forgive someone means you won’t seek to personally pay them back or wish that some other person could harm them on your behalf.

But to forgive someone does NOT mean that you have to subject yourself to the same abuse again. You can forgive someone and still remove them from your life. In fact, the Bible has verses in the Old and New Testaments which teach us that we should cut people who act in such a way out of our lives. If I leave my wallet in your presence a couple of times and you steal money from it, I would forgive you in the sense that I would not want to or plot how to steal money from your wallet. But I would refuse to leave you alone with my wallet again.

As important to understand, often when someone has harmed us in some way, there may be life or legal consequences that they will experience. For example, if someone has harmed you in a significant way, they may be fired from their job and/or be tried and convicted in a court of law. Your personally forgiving them, however, need not have an impact on those external consequences. If someone harms you, you should forgive them, not desiring the ability or opportunity to inflict on them a similar harm. But if the law of the land calls for someone committing such an act to be jailed in an effort to protect others from suffering the same fate as you, there is no contradiction at all in those two acts. You should personally forgive and the law enforcement and courts maintained by the state should jail the offender. The Bible teaches us (among other places, in Romans chapter 13) that God ordains governments and establishes them to, by the use of force if necessary, restrain the evil that humans tend to inflict on one another.

To directly answer the opening question – no, a person who has been harmed by another does NOT have to allow that person to stay in their life and continue harming them if they want to follow the biblical requirement to forgive that person.

Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.

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