7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness

How to think through biblical forgiveness as we counsel people who have been sinned against.

Therapeutic forgiveness is more the feeling of forgiving someone. You forgive them in your heart or in your mind. It becomes “an emotion rather than a transaction or commitment between two parties.” For me, I don’t believe the therapeutic forgiveness is absolutely wrong. I just believe it is incomplete. But when it becomes what we primarily mean by forgiveness then it becomes extremely unhelpful.

 

I’ve been preaching the past couple weeks on forgiveness. In preparing I’ve found Chris Brauns’ work, Unpacking Forgiveness, to be immensely helpful. A position that I have held for awhile now is that forgiveness isn’t simply about us. We don’t forgive someone primarily because we release ourselves from some prison of bitterness. Though that is certainly a benefit—we forgive because God forgave us.

I’ve also held the position, for a while now, that there is a difference between the posture of forgiveness and actually living in reconciliation with someone. I can forgive you—as in, absorb the cost of your sin, not hold your sin against you, etc.. But I cannot fully forgive you—in the everything is reconciled since—until you repent. I’m convinced we have to hold this position as it relates to God’s forgiveness of us, otherwise we must embrace universalism.

Brauns does a phenomenal job of showing the difference between biblical forgiveness and what he terms therapeutic forgiveness. Therapeutic forgiveness is more the feeling of forgiving someone. You forgive them in your heart or in your mind. It becomes “an emotion rather than a transaction or commitment between two parties”. (65) For me, I don’t believe the therapeutic forgiveness is absolutely wrong. I just believe it is incomplete. But when it becomes what we primarily mean by forgiveness then it becomes extremely unhelpful.

Brauns lists 7 problems we have when therapeutic forgiveness becomes our sole definition for forgiveness:

  1. It distorts people’s understanding of true forgiveness.To say that two offenders are equally forgiven when one repents and the other does not is to cheapen the beauty of reconciliation and true biblical forgiveness.
  2. It attempts to redefine how people understand God’s forgiveness.
  3. It suggests that some people may even need to forgive God.
  4. It results in ‘cheap grace’ and a reluctance to identify and name evil.
  5. It discourages healing in Christian community.
  6. It may make individuals feel licensed to avoid dealing with their own sin.
  7. It does not prepare us as Christians for the persecution and evil that we may face.

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