I’ve been reading through Paul Tripp’s book What Did You Expect: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, and he has some thoughts on forgiveness that I thought were very profound. Having laid out some of the blessings/benefits of forgiveness, Tripp asks, “Why don’t people just forgive?” He then points out that “the sad reality is that there is short-term, relationally destructive power in refusing to forgive. Holding onto our spouse’s wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationship” (page 90).
I think it’s worth listing the “dark benefits” that Tripp delineates so that we can examine ourselves and find where we are seeking to reap those benefits rather than taking the healthy, God-glorifying, servant-hearted approach of forgiveness.
Debt is power. There is power in having something to hold over another’s head. There is power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against our spouse as our relational trump card.
Debt is identity. "Holding onto our spouse’s sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to our spouse. It allows us to believe that we are more righteous and mature than our spouse. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self not by what God has called us to be and do but by comparing ourselves to our spouse. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that is the struggle of every sinner."
Debt is entitlement. "Because of all our spouse’s wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying our spouse’s wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. ‘After all I have had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I deserve…?”
Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that our spouse has done against us that we still carry around with us are like a loaded gun; it is very tempting to pull them out and use them when we are angry. When our wife has hurt us in some way, it is very tempting to hurt her back by throwing in her face just how evil and immature she is."
Debt puts us in God’s position. "It is the one place that we must never be, but it is also a position that all of us have put ourselves in. We are not the judge of our spouse. We are not the one who should dispense consequences for our spouse’s sin. It is not our job to make sure he feels the appropriate amount of guilt for what he has done. But it is very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge."
(What Did You Expect, 90-91)
Tripp concludes, “This is nasty stuff.” I agree!