Forgiveness is Not “Overlooking an Offense”

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “It is to a man’s glory to overlook an offense.”  So, is that wisdom about forgiveness?  Is forgiveness really as simple as just pretending the bad thing never happened?  As Christians, when someone hurts us in a profound, devastating way, does scripture really require that we just whistle a happy tune and pretend everything is good?


Is Christian forgiveness akin to sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring a brother’s bad behavior? Is that really the picture of forgiveness?  In order to forgive, do I just have to get good at pretending?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no”.  There is a great deal more to forgiveness than just pretending it never happened.  Frankly, that would be too easy.  If it were that easy, everybody would be doing it.  But they’re not… because it isn’t.

I am no Hebrew scholar, but commentators smarter than I have explained that the word for “offense” which is used in Proverbs 19:11 is not the Hebrew word most commonly used for sin.  Rather, it is a word whose connotation is more about “annoying” or “irritating”.  To use an American colloquialism, When someone rubs you the wrong way, you might just need to build a bridge and get over it. This wisdom from Solomon has more to do with not being overly sensitive than it has to do with actual forgiveness.  It is about patience. It is the right response when your spouse squeezes the toothpaste in the middle of the tube instead of the end of the tube, or when he puts the toilet paper on the roll backwards (or not at all).  It is the right response to annoying behavior (and who would know more about annoying spousal behavior than Solomon, the guy with a hundred wives… but I digress).

Irritating behavior is an entirely different scenario from the kind of behavior that warrants forgiveness.  When you have sinned and God forgives you, there is nothing about that forgiveness that says, “Don’t worry about it Blake because this is no big deal at all, it’s not important, etc.”  Rather, God’s forgiveness says, “This hurt me more than you will ever know…now, let’s move forward…no condemnation.”  Likewise, our forgiveness must include an appropriate expression of pain (“Ouch, that hurt”) along with a promise of forgiveness.

When you have been deeply wounded, pretending it didn’t happen is an inappropriate response.  Similarly, when you’re just being overly sensitive to annoying behavior, forgiveness is an inappropriate response (e.g., “Honey, I just want you to know that I forgive you for ruining my tooth brushing experience this morning by squeezing the tube in the wrong place.”)

As Christians, we are called upon to recognize when overlooking the offense is the right response and when forgiveness is the right response.  Not always easy, is it?

© Blake Coffee

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3 responses to “Forgiveness is Not “Overlooking an Offense””

  1. Thank you for this…i needed it.

  2. I really needed this. I’m a christian and I brought an offense up to leadership in my church in the most loving way. I wrote a letter to leadership just stating my hurts on several things. I didn’t tell my husband that I wrote the letter. Every leadership person called and apologized, my husband didn’t know what was going on. Now I think he is embarrassed, about what I did.

  3. Interesting. If I understand what you’re saying, the offense is merely annoying behavior that YOU find offensive and not necessarily a sin on the other person’s part. That really makes it our issue and not the other person’s doesn’t it?

    Regarding forgiveness, I tell my children that the fact that forgiveness is necessary means that you were indeed wronged. But that to hang on to the resentment is equally sinful, because we’re to forgive as Christ forgave us… unconditionally and undeservedly.

    A lot of people think that “I’ll forgive once I get over it.” But the opposite is true. Forgiveness is a choice of the will. You’ll get over it once you choose to forgive. Your will is the engine; your feelings (anger, resentment, etc.) are the caboose… they’ll follow your choice, whether it’s to forgive or not to forgive.

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