"WHAT YOU DON'T FORGIVE, you pass on" a counselor wisely
pointed out to a woman whose husband lived a double life for
twenty-five years. Only when he was dying of AIDS did she
realize that the man she had tried so hard to trust had
deceived her and potentially could have passed the disease on
to her. Now, a few years after his demise, she was faced with a
decision: Should she keep her anger and desire for vengeance
alive, or would she give it up for her own benefit and in obedience
to the Lord she had come to love?
In this chapter we will describe some of the common
offenses that many of us have had to bear, and in the next
chapter we will describe what happens to those who do not
deal with offenses in healthy ways. If you have never been
offended, or if you are not facing a difficult standoff with
another person, you can still benefit from this chapter by
grasping the dilemma of some who feel keenly the pain of broken
King David, the second king of Israel, was no stranger to personal
offenses. Not only was he a hurter at times, inflicting his
own brand of justice on the unsuspecting, he himself endured
occasions when enemies railed against him because of his
trust in God. But the most painful times in David's life were
those when people closest to him betrayed him. Few things are
more painful to us than when someone close to us wounds us
Read carefully David's words in Psalm 55. Perhaps you can
relate to the intensity of his struggle.
Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear
me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am
distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the
wicked; for they bring down suffering upon me and
revile me in their anger. My heart is in anguish within
me. (Psalm 55:1-4)
Clearly, the offense David described brought him to the
point of anguish and despair. But it's not until later in the
psalm that he reveals the surprising source of the injury-a
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe
were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my
close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.
David admits that such offenses would be a little easier to
endure coming from his enemies-he'd expect that from
them. But he puts powerful expression to those difficult feelings
we've all felt when we've been injured by a close friend or
a loved one or someone we believed we could trust.
That's one of the reasons why divorces grow nasty and bitter.
It's because someone I love, someone who is in my house,
someone with whom I shared a bed has become my vilest enemy.
It happens among business partners and ministry colleagues as
well. And because so much rides on these personal relationships,
Satan loves to inflict his harm. Often these offenses seem
amazingly petty and inconsequential-but in the hands of the
Enemy they can exact inestimable damage.
WHAT'S IN THE BAG?
Satan uses a mixed bag of offenses to keep people bound.
Let's examine a few of them, and then in the next chapter we
will find out what happens to these unresolved issues within
the human heart. This will help us understand why reconciliation
is often so difficult and sometimes impossible.
The first painful offense in this bag is a broken promise.
Hear the cry of this woman: "Pray For me again . I failed the
human test. I believed another man's lies that he was going to
marry me. Of course I broke God's Word's teaching about sex.
I am a Christian woman and love Jesus with all my heart. But
I'm weak when it comes to the human touch. Men continue to
lie and I believe them I am so deceived and Satan uses this
need of mine."
Her letter goes on to say that she dated the man for two
years, they served in a church together, and he appeared to be
everything she had prayed for. But when his parents discovered
that the two wanted to get married, they turned on their son,
fearing they were losing control over him. They said that his
girlfriend had no right to expect marriage, particularly because
she was not properly meeting his sexual needs anyway. He in
turn began having sex with a woman he met on the Internet,
and now he cursed the woman he had promised to marry. The
depth of her anger can be felt as she continues: "I had no idea
I was dating a demon controlled by 'devil parents.'"
This dear woman-may God help her-says she has been
abused by men since she was fourteen, and she is now forty-six
years old. This man was one of a long list of men who had
deceived her, and he chose to break their relationship on her
birthday to add insult to injury. What this woman does with
her pain is very important and will determine her mental
health in the years to come.
To a lesser degree, all of us have experienced the pain of
betrayal. You lend a friend money and he says, "You know I'll
get it back to you as soon as I have it." Later on, he has a job
and prospers and when he sees you he pretends as if everything
I heard of a dentist who did a lot of work for Christians. He
stopped going to church because he said there were too many
choir members singing through teeth he had fixed that had
not been paid for! Broken promises actually caused him to
renounce church! A broken leg may heal so well that the event
is long forgotten; broken promises can cause lifelong injury.
A young pastor began a ministry on Saturday mornings to
the inmates of the local county jail. Each week he'd go into the
jail cells and conduct Bible studies and prayer sessions among
the inmates-mostly young white men who were doing time
for anything from burglary to habitual drug use. As he'd enter
the jail the despair and anger among these nineteen- to twenty-four-year-olds
was palpable. When the young pastor asked the
warden how so many young men with great promise could end
up in such a place, the warden sighed and said, "This place is
filled with boys who got tired of waiting for their dads to keep
their promises-promises to provide, promises to show up
and spend time with them, promises to come home at night-they
finally got so angry with the injustice of it, they went out
and did stupid things."
Young men waiting for their dads to keep their promises!
What a sobering reminder that broken promises can help send
a young man down a road of personal destruction. Accept the
fact that all of us live with promises we have broken or promises
others have made to us that were not kept.
The second offense in this bag is the breaking of confidence.
A young man told his pastor about his struggle with homosexuality.
He thought that his frank talk was confidential, since
he was earnestly seeking help. Yet, a few weeks later, the pastor
blurted out in a sermon, "Recently a young man in our church
shared his own struggles with homosexual tendencies" He
gave enough other details for people in the small congregation
to suspect that it was the young man who had indeed shared
his inmost thoughts and battles. Rumors began circulating and
the crushed young man left the church never to return again.
Humiliated, betrayed, used.
Where do you turn when people you thought you could
trust betray your inner soul? Sadly, many churches have split,
friendships ended, and ministries struggled amid the turbulence
of breached confidences.
Satan's bag contains a third offense: personal rejection. We
could include in this category all sorts of verbal, emotional,
and racial rejection as well as slander and gossip. I recall as a
boy learning that ditty, "Sticks and stones will break my bones,
but names will never harm me." I don't know who wrote it, but
it should be banned! Who hasn't felt the sting of an unkind
word, or a teasing remark from a bully or peer, or from a racial
slur? Such barbs slice deep into the human soul. One cutting
remark has the power to paralyze a child's emotional development
and send him/her to a life of compensating for the hurt.
Fourth, this bag contains the offense of a false accusation.
For instance, a teenage girl, motivated by jealousy, falsely accuses
a boy of something he didn't do. When he denies it, the two
families wind up in a feud over the truth. The offenses shatter
all trust and the relationships become strained and hollow.
And at times, the rupture from a false accusation can run so
deep that reconciliation seems impossible. Walls go up so high
they become virtually impenetrable.
Fifth, this bag holds the awful offense of abuse, such as
when the parent inflicts physical and emotional pain upon a
child. These hurts penetrate into the life and perception of a
child who will struggle with anger and self-hatred, and this
baggage will be taken with him into adulthood. At first glance
it seems as if there can be no redeemable value to the evil that
is being inflicted upon some children even as you read this
paragraph. The horrors are too gruesome to describe, and the
emotional wounds are difficult to turn into scars that would
prove that healing has taken place. Yet, even here we must
believe in God's grace and healing.
Five ugly pieces of pain. Any one or more of these offenses
results in a broken relationship, and typically the offended
becomes enflamed with bitterness and resentment. Satan exploits
the pain by making it the central focus of the man's (or
woman's) thoughts and attitudes. The Enemy jumps at the
chance to debilitate a potentially effective follower of Christ by
using a personal offense to hold him or her in spiritual limbo.
BARRIERS TO RECONCILIATION
Two sisters had grown apart throughout the years, the younger
one rejecting a Christian lifestyle and the older one following
Christ wholeheartedly. The younger, Christine, who married
unhappily, evidently resented her older sister who is married to a
fine Christian man. Despite their differences in outlook and values,
Christine frequently calls Monica, wanting to "get together."
But the conversation typically goes something like this .
"You never come to see us."
"We want to, Christine, but when we do you always find
some reason to not be available."
"Well, there are lots of reasons. Our children are all over the
house . You know, it's hard to keep the place clean. Anyway, you
haven't exactly been supporting me over the years. I mean, why
didn't you defend me when Mom and Dad were abusing me?"
"I was only a girl of nine at the time and there wasn't much
I could do because at that time I didn't realize how serious it
"When I was sleeping with Don before we were married,
you didn't support me either."
"Well, no, I believed it was wrong then and I believe it is
"Yeah, but that shows you hate me, don't you?"
"No, I don't hate you I have never hated you."
"Sure you hate me. Come on, Monica! You never defended
me when Mom and Dad were abusing me and you refused
to support my marriage. Ever since Don and I slept together,
you've thought you were better than me.
"And I resent that Mom and Dad gave you money for college
but they didn't give any to me."
"I didn't ask Mom and Dad for money for college."
"Well, maybe not, but you took it and you didn't care about
"I did care about you, I-"
"You hate me and you've always taken advantage of me."
"No, I don't hate you, Christine, and we will try to visit, but
we have to agree on some rules between your children and
"So that's what you think of me! You think my children
aren't good enough for your goody-two-shoes kids!! You think
your kids are perfect, right? You believe they are perfect and my
kids are devils. That's what you think, isn't it?"
"No, that's not what I think . I just know that when the
kids get together, yours are a little wild . uh, they need guidance.
I mean, we just have to agree on some things for our
family to visit you."
"See, you do hate me . and you think I'm evil, don't you?"
Monica feels as though she's been slapped in the face. Her
eyes begin to water. She wonders, Have I just accused my sister?
"Chris, you are not evil, and I have never hated you. But I
must admit that you have eroded some trust by the lies you've
told me in the past."
"So, since you claim to be a Christian, then where is your
forgiveness? I can't believe the way you hold grudges, bringing
up things that go back a couple of years-and you still
remember those things! What a memory!"
Do you think there is any chance that these two sisters can
get together for a nice leisurely stroll in the park? I don't think
In the next chapter we will discover why the bitter Christine
puts up barriers to reconciliation that Monica finds impossible
to overcome. We'll discover the blinding power of bitterness,
the blinding power of an offense.
And in the process, we might just discover ourselves.
A PRAYER FOR HONESTY
Father, I pray that You will give me the honesty to let You uncover
the hidden sins I've tolerated because of my past. Help me look at all
that happened, and then spill my bitterness like a pitcher of water at
the foot of Jesus' cross. Deliver me from the irrationality of sin, which
makes me defensive and suspicious of all relationships. Let my words
to others be wholesome, wise, and true. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Chapter TwoTHE BLINDING
WHEN AN OFFENSE FESTERS in our hearts, we cannot confine it
within our souls. Instead, it spills over in ways that we don't
even realize. It's like burning incense in a dormitory. The smell
cannot be confined; rather it escapes the dorm room and
wafts down the hallway, into the washrooms, and all the way
to the front door. Just so, our bitterness spills over into other
relationships no matter how determined we are to keep it confined
to a single room within our soul. Nursing an offense
quite literally blinds us to our own faults, forces us to have
skewed relationships, and warps our self-perceptions.
This chapter outlines five characteristics of someone who
is in bondage to an offense. Some who nurture their offense
have almost all of these characteristics; some might only have
one or two. The nature of the offense determines the kind of
response we might have. In general, I believe these character
traits are an accurate and biblical picture of a person focused
on their inner pain.
1. WALLED IN BY BITTERNESS
Meet a bitter person and you will find someone with thick
walls designed to protect his or her own resentment. These
walls of internalized anger and mistrust have deep foundations
that support a well-insulated fortress mentality.
Solomon described this reality in Proverbs 18:19: "An offended
brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes
are like the barred gates of a citadel."
Solomon says you can more easily conquer a castle than reconcile
an offended brother or friend. Just as you can't remove
the barred gates of a castle, you sometimes cannot peaceably
enter the life of a wounded brother or sister. Scaling a stone wall
is one thing; winning over a stony heart is another.
A few years ago my wife and I visited Rotenburg, Germany
-a medieval city whose fortress walls remain standing to this
day. In fact, we were able to walk on top of a good portion of
those ancient walls. We also took a midnight tour with a guide
who played the part of a medieval watchman.
We already knew that the reason walls were built around a
city was to control what would be allowed into the city. But our
tour guide actually showed us the small manhole which at
night was all that remained open, just big enough for one person
to crawl through. If you arrived after the gates were locked
you were allowed passage through this small opening, only
after personal identification, assuring the guards you did not
pose a threat to the city. Everyone who came through was carefully
That's precisely how injured people operate. An offended
brother builds high walls to make certain no enemy combatant
penetrates his life again. Only information or people that
affirm his pain are allowed into the fortress of his life. The
manhole is carefully monitored, making sure that no one will
challenge his right to deep bitterness and resentment. The
pain is too great to allow someone to get very close and risk