Some Things You Don’t Have to Forgive

Not everything that bothers or annoys us needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness is only for moral offenses.

When we try to use forgiveness as the method to resolve relational irritants that are not moral in nature, several bad things happen.

  • We establish our preferences as the moral standard for our spouse—pride.
  • We begin to feel as if we forgive more than we are forgiven—self-righteousness.
  • We gain an increasingly negative view of our spouse—judgmental.
  • Our marriage begins to be built around an elaborate number of rules—performance-based acceptance.
  • We begin to feel as if God were asking too much of us—God-fatigue.

“What else is there?” we might ask. In What Did You Expect? Paul Tripp offers three categories of relational strain which do not call for a response of forgiveness (p. 94; bold text only).

After describing what goes in each category, we will look at what kind of grace-based, constructive response is called for in each situation.

1. Human weakness.

Being clumsy, having struggles with a particular subject/aptitude, experiencing the limitation of a physical illness/injury, succumbing to the degenerative influence of aging and similar experiences can negatively impact a marriage. These things can be annoying, fear-provoking or upsetting, but they are not moral and, therefore, do not need to be forgiven.

The appropriate response to human weakness is compassion, patience and assistance.

A couple should be able to discuss the impact that each other’s weaknesses have on the other. Taking these conversations out of the “moral sphere” decreases the sense of shame commonly associated with our weaknesses. One of the most bonding aspects of marriage is creating a safe environment to acknowledge our weakness and be loved anyway.

A couple should also be able to discuss how they can support each other’s weaknesses. This is a big part of learning God’s design for marriage and will be expressed uniquely in each home. But not all weaknesses will be complemented by a spouse’s strength. In these cases we show our commitment to the marriage by allowing our affection for our spouse to trump our annoyance with their weaknesses.

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Brad Hambrick
Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Instructor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and has authored several books including Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends and God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles.