Learning to Forgive… Like David

You’ve heard of “pop psychology” but what about “pew psychology”? Sometimes nobody gets it worse than we churchy types. That’s not to say that we don’t have  the right answers available to us through the Bible. We do. But we often don’t  dig deep enough to understand what God is REALLY telling us about relationships. I can think of no more glaring example of pew psychology gone wrong than the saying, “Forgive and forget.”

Oops – did I just step on a long held belief of yours? I hope the discomfort will keep you tuned in long enough to hear me out.

Here’s the problem with the idea of forgive and forget, if we do this we ignore some laws of relationship that were created by God himself. God’s word says that if we confess our sins He is faithful to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness AND we still pay consequences for our choices or behavior. If you steal $50,000 from your employer and confess your sin will you be forgiven by God? Yes. Will you need to repay the money? Yes. Will you also likely face a prison term? Yes. Do those consequences mean that you were not really forgiven for stealing the money? No, they don’t.

The concept of “forgive and forget” blurs two elements of relational trespassing that need to remain separate. Those elements are FORGIVNESS and TRUST. The Bible is clear that we need to forgive as we have been forgiven. A failure to forgive actually hurts us more than the person who has offended us. By forgiving them, we actually free ourselves. That’s one reason why forgiveness is always to be freely given.

But forgiveness doesn’t mean we trust the individual. We can forgive wholly while recognizing that it would be unwise to trust the individual until they have EARNED that trust through appropriate actions over time.

A classic example of someone who forgave completely but knew better than to trust the offending (but forgiven) party is found in the story of David and King Saul. David demonstrated over and over that he held no grudge against his father-in-law. But he clearly understood that placing his life in the king’s hands would be a lethal choice for him. In First Samuel, when David confronts Saul with the evidence that he had literally stood by the king’s bed the night before, Saul publicly confessed that he had been in the wrong and asked David to “return”.

But the story ends with this significant phrase, “So David went on his way, and Saul returned home.” (I Sam 26:25) Even though Saul had made public confession of his wrong, invited David to return, and prophesied about him, David “went on his way.” Words had to be followed with action in order for trust to be rebuilt. A biblical understanding that differentiates between forgiveness and trust can significantly reduce the relational damage being done in the name of God. As we learn to differentiate between forgiveness and trust, we’ll experience new freedom to forgive and growing safety in our relationships.

– Richie

(This post is an adaptation of a new video added to the Marriage Conversion University module on Forgiveness.  Learn more at www.MarriageConversionUniversity.com)

How do YOU understand forgiveness? How have misunderstandings of forgiveness gotten you in trouble in the past? Post your comments below.

photo credit: quantumlars via photopin cc

Leave A Reply (7 comments so far)


  1. Donna Watts
    9 years ago

    It’s true…Forgive and forget has been so drilled into most of us that we don’t really think about it. However, what you say about earning trust after trust has been broken makes a whole lot of sense. And your Biblical example is excellent!

    • Richie
      9 years ago

      I think it’s true that we have some of these ideas drilled into us so early that we often don’t even evaluate it’s validity in our adult lives. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Paul (Sam) Vasquez
    9 years ago

    Thank you for the words of wisdom in this article. May the Lord continue to bless you and your family!

    • Richie
      9 years ago

      Sam – you are welcome. Thanks for your kind words.

  3. Jerry
    9 years ago

    I think that I relate – My former wife left me and did some pretty nasty things and accusations – I think that I have forgiven her but there is no way that I would trust her.

    • Richie
      9 years ago

      Hi Jerry – I feel the pain in your comment and while I understand why you would write what you did, it’s not quite how I understand my Bible. God’s heart is always for restoration. That is why he pursues us when we’ve wounded him. My desire is to become a man that forgives freely and looks for reasons to trust those who have hurt me. I believe trust must be built over time but I want to be open to that possibility should the other party desire to show themselves trustworthy. Does that make sense? I don’t think it’s wise to trust without evidence, but I believe we should be open to it.

  4. Barb
    9 years ago

    This is so true. I was abused by a family member when I was 11. It took me a long time to forgive, and I believe it was because of this concept. I finally understood that forgiving him was not saying what he did was OK. After this, I was able to forgive him. I have been working on renewing the relationship, however, I never trusted him with my daughters, and will not trust him with my granddaughter!

    Thanks for clarifying this for those who are having trouble understanding.