When you forgive someone (and say you’ve done it more than once), is it okay to forgive for the last time and cut all ties with that person? Not have anything else to do with them?
WR From Nashville, Georgia
Forgiveness (Part 1)
There is no limit to the number of times we are commanded to forgive someone so no, it is not okay to forgive them “for the last time.” Peter asked Jesus about this. He wondered if he had to forgive someone who had sinned against him, “Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “’I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22) He was telling Peter that forgiveness is required an unlimited number of times, as often as necessary.
Now let’s talk about the other part of the question: cutting all ties with the offending person. Forgiving someone and cutting ties are two separate issues. Sometimes it is wise and even necessary to cut all ties after the forgiveness has been given. From my perspective it’s possible to forgive AND cut ties. Let’s first discuss forgiveness.
Forgiveness is primarily an act of the will. You can forgive someone from your heart even if your emotional side doesn’t want to go along, especially at first. Sometimes the emotions follow but not always. Forgiveness basically releases the person from their offense as far as you are concerned. They don’t owe you anything. Rather, you let that sin be between them and God.
A second important thing to understand about forgiveness is that it is more for you than for them. That’s where a lot of people get stuck. They think if they forgive it means they are saying that what the person did was okay. No, it really means freedom for YOU from the residual effects of the sin: nursing a grudge, resentment, bitterness, retaliation etc.
How is it possible to forgive? The easiest way I know of is to meditate on your own great need for forgiveness. Rather than compare yourself to the one who offended you (where you might come up smelling like a rose), compare yourself to God’s righteousness where you will always come up short. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) God has forgiven us. Who are we to deny forgiveness to another?
Cutting ties (Part 2)
You pose your question as a hypothetical but I’m sure that it is not hypothetical in your life. Some offense repeated over and over prompted your query. You feel at the end of your road and you want to cut all ties with the offender. Can you?
This is not necessarily all-inclusive but I think there are definitely two times where cutting ties is appropriate. The first one is for safety or protection for yourself or someone you are responsible for. For instance, if a relative sexually abused your child, you would definitely need to cut ties permanently. It is your responsibility to keep your child safe. Or, what if a friend stole something while in your house? What if it happened every time they had access? This serious breech of trust calls for action to deny them any further opportunity.
The other instance is not quite so clear-cut. It is the case where a relationship is so emotionally unhealthy it always gets the best of you. You fall into the same poisonous patterns over and over. Let me give an example of a woman I know where this very thing happened.
Janie was raised in a home where her parents were very controlling. By nature, Janie was more passive and that played into the domineering style of her mother particularly. Additionally, her parents were heavily involved in the occult and Janie had good reason to believe her grandmother had dedicated her to Satan when she was little.
As an adult, Janie found freedom in Christ and she broke off all the curses she had been raised with. Still, she could not seem to return to her parent’s house even for a visit without finding herself their victim once again. Her manipulative mother always somehow got the better of her. Finally she cut off all contact and made clear to them she was doing it and why. Until Janie can be victor rather than victim, I agree with her that’s the wisest decision.
You have the right to protect yourself and your family members from danger, whether physical or psychological. Forgiving someone has nothing to do with it. You can both forgive from your heart and then remove yourself from further offense. This may not be done as retaliation however. God knows your heart so there’s no use trying to fool him.
Always forgive without limit because Jesus has forgiven you without limit. But when it comes to the company you keep remember this: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)