For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. Matthew 6:14. (NIV)
Loved ones can often hurt us more than enemies, and they can be more difficult to forgive. In the Old Testament, Job suffered at the hands of friends and family who misunderstood him. At a time when everything had been stripped from him, they wrongfully accused him of sinning (Job 5,11,15-16).
The Bible is full of examples of forgiveness, but how are we to know when to forgive the person who struggles with addiction and what is best for them and us? After all, they are not as innocent as Job, but have willfully committed sins against us and themselves. Yet like Job’s friends, we sometimes misunderstand what forgiveness truly is and how to forgive. So then how are we to forgive those who hurt us and abuse themselves?
The following verse in Matthew makes it very clear, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Does that mean we can allow the addict to trample over our lives? No! Forgiving someone doesn’t mean letting them walk all over us. However, it does mean to let go and let God take care of bringing justice.
According to dictionary.com there are five components of forgiving: 1. To grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve. 2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.). 3. to grant pardon to (a person). 4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one's enemies. 5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability.
We can pardon the addict for being the way they are and still hold them accountable for their actions. God is a just judge and we know that eventually the addict will reap what they sow. Pardoning doesn’t mean we just let them off the hook completely. Yet it is our attitude toward them that shows whether or not we forgive them. The person dealing with an addict needs to continue to believe the addict can be released and should hold them accountable for their actions, but not become resentful when they fall. Only the power of God’s love and forgiveness can help us do that.
The second part of the definition says to give up all claims to the debtor. We must realize we cannot change them, only God can. Yet we do not need to facilitate their abusive habits. To harbor or cover up for the addict is not what forgiveness is about; God always wants to bring things into the light. Parents often struggle with this with their prodigals, but letting our loved ones get “away with murder” is not how God wants us to raise our children or handle addiction.
Granting pardon is more of an attitude, and does not mean we let the addict go scott free. We release them into the hands of God and sometimes the hands of the authorities. While we can’t force our loved ones to get the help they need, we can allow circumstances to force them into uncomfortable situations where they will reap the consequences for their actions.
To give up resentment is the heart of the matter, for deep resentment will give way to bitterness and anger. When we deal with the addict out of these emotions we often make mistakes and say things that are harmful. When our hearts are pure, we will have the wisdom of God to guide us in what to do and say. When we love the addict in this way, they can be released to God. Love does not mean we need to give into the demands of the addict. That is the world’s view of love. God’s love disciplines us. We will struggle with this if we do not forgive the addict and instead attempt to make him or her pay for what they have done or conversely, hide them under our wings.
True love and forgiveness go hand in hand. Cancelling what the addict owes us emotionally frees us to be able to deal with them with godly wisdom, rather than acting out of our limited understanding. This is only possible when we know God’s love and forgiveness towards us. As far as cancelling monetary debts of the addict, we should be careful to avoid financing their addiction or allowing them to be in a position to continue their addiction. This isn’t forgiveness, but foolishness. God’s Word encourages us to be debt free and not cause others to be indebted to us if they have not shown a good track record.
So how many times should we forgive those who trespass against us? “Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). That may seem like foolishness if we misunderstand what forgiveness really means, but when we have a clearer understanding of it and the love of God guiding and empowering us, we will be able to forgive as many times as needed. Like Christ who hung on the cross, we will be able to say “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24).