Forgiveness with Boundaries

david and abishai holding king sauls spear and water jug

Behold the King's spear!

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.” David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.” Then Saul said to David, “Blessed are you, my son David; you will both accomplish much and surely prevail.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place. (1 Samuel 26:21-25)

King Saul was right to call David “my son.”  David had multiple covenant ties to Saul.

First and foremost David was an Israelite, a loyal subject of the kingdom over which Saul ruled by sacred covenant.  As heir to Abraham’s covenant with God, David understood that God had appointed Saul to be king over Israel, and often referred to Saul as “The Lord’s Anointed.

But David had much closer ties to King Saul than most subjects of the kingdom.  David was King’s Minstrel.  He was King’s Armor Bearer.  He was King’s Champion.  He was Captain of the King’s Army.

Moreover, David was sworn covenant partner to Jonathan, son of King Saul, and was married to Michal, daughter of King Saul.

David truly was the son of King Saul in all ways except direct bloodline.

Yet, Saul sought to kill David.

David had done nothing to harm Saul, in any way.  Rather, he had done much to help and bless Saul.  Yet, out of jealousy, Saul became obsessed with killing David.  He made multiple personal attempts on David’s life, with a spear, and led his army in multiple campaigns to pursue David.

Saul was confronted, several times, with his sinful behavior.  He was confronted by David, by Jonathan, and by others.  Sometimes Saul responded to the confrontations in anger.  Other times he responded in apparent repentance, weeping, apologizing, asking for forgiveness, and swearing solemn vows to bless David and honor his covenants.

Yet, after each emotional confession, Saul changed his mind and again attempted to kill David.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

It’s a classic case of abuse against a covenant partner.  Rather than honoring the covenant vows to love, honor, cherish and bless, the abuser takes advantage of the relationship to repeatedly wound their covenant partner, in direct violation of their sacred oath.

If you (or someone you love) have ever been in an abusive relationship, you’ve seen the same symptoms.  The confrontations, the apparent repentance, the tears, the asking forgiveness, the promises…all to be soon replaced with a return to the abusive behavior.

David never fought back, never attempted to harm Saul, never even defended himself from physical attack.  David simply fled from Saul’s presence, to preserve his own life without harming Saul.

Upon multiple occasions, David had ample opportunity to kill Saul, yet chose not to harm him.  The above passage is one of those occasions.

While pursuing David with his army, Saul had camped for the night.  David slipped into the camp and took Saul’s spear and water jug from beside the sleeping king.  David could have easily taken advantage of the opportunity to rid himself of a sworn enemy.  Instead, he used it as an opportunity to once again confront Saul with the obvious fact that David was innocent of any wrongful intent against Saul.

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will not harm you again because my life was precious in your sight this day. Behold, I have played the fool and have committed a serious error.”

Saul expressed words of repentance, confessed his sin, declared his love for David, asked David to return with him, and promised not to harm him again.

David replied, “Behold the spear of the king! Now let one of the young men come over and take it. The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord delivered you into my hand today, but I refused to stretch out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. Now behold, as your life was highly valued in my sight this day, so may my life be highly valued in the sight of the Lord, and may He deliver me from all distress.”

David responded with forgiveness.  Although Saul had repeatedly attempted to kill him, David was quick to forgive.  He declared his love for Saul, returned Saul’s weapon to him, and did not seek vengeance against Saul.

But look at what David did not do…

So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.

Confession and forgiveness were followed not by reconciliation, but, rather, by each going their own way.

David freely forgave Saul.  In fact he clearly forgave him before Saul even asked forgiveness, as he refused to take advantage of the opportunity to kill a sworn enemy in the field of battle, or even to engage him in self-defense.

Yet David did not return with Saul as requested.  In fact, he required an intermediary to even return Saul’s belongings.  David forgave Saul, but he did not reconcile with him.  He did not attempt to renew fellowship with Saul.  He did not even allow Saul to come close to him.

Why?  Because he did not trust Saul.  Given Saul’s track record, it would have been foolish to trust him.  Saul had repeatedly proven himself to be untrustworthy.

David freely forgave Saul.  Yet he carefully guarded himself against being put in a position of vulnerability to Saul.  David maintained healthy boundaries in his relationship with Saul…and in this case healthy boundaries meant keeping Saul further than spear-throwing-distance away.

Forgiveness of deep wounds does not require trust, vulnerability, or renewal of fellowship. 

As Christians, we are compelled to forgive.  Forgiveness is given freely.  Trust must be earned.

Have you ever had a situation like David’s, where forgiveness could not include trust or renewal of fellowship?

[Linked to God Bumps , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]

 

32 thoughts on “Forgiveness with Boundaries

  1. This was so well written Joe. Having been there done that- this is so insightful for those who don’t know the balance of forgiveness, trust, and safety. This spoke so loud and clear…”Forgiveness of deep wounds does not require trust, vulnerability, or renewal of fellowship.”

    Thank you for sharing the biblical perspective on this issue.

    • “…those who don’t know the balance of forgiveness, trust, and safety”

      When in the middle of an emotionally charged relational issue, that can be a difficult balance to recognize, can’t it?

      I know I have struggled with it. I was fortunate to have wise council to help me see the differences, at a crucial time.

      So much of what we learn equates forgiveness to reconciliation. That’s great for normal issues in a healthy relationship. However, it does not prepare us well for dealing with deep wounds inflicted repeatedly in a dysfunctional relationship.

      Thank you for the insights, Paula!

  2. I really appreciated this, Joe. Having worked with abused women in the past, it’s true that sometimes you can’t trust the person that it won’t happen again. But forgiveness is needed. Loved this post!

  3. Hmm! Have studied the OT so often, being very historically oriented, and never thought of this in your way. Just assumed that since Saul was OK one minute towards David and others and then turning the opposite direction [to ruin or kill] suddenly, it would be hard to risk what could happen next. Never thought of it this other way. Interesting approach, to say the least. I always like to see what represents deep thinking.

    • “…since Saul was OK one minute towards David and others and then turning the opposite direction [to ruin or kill] suddenly, it would be hard to risk what could happen next.”

      Yes, exactly! And that sudden change is fairly typical of many abusers. David’s example demonstrates a way to deal with abusive relationships in a manner that is both godly and wise…both forgiving and protective…

      Thank you, Joanne!

  4. Perfect words & counsel for a time in my career when a decision has to be made as to whether I hold a supervisor accountable for her abuse & neglect of duties. Forgiveness will be freely given…my trust will have to be earned and will be protected from her abusive ways. Thank you Joe!! I am continually blessed by your Godly teaching…

    • Hey, Barb! Good to hear from you!

      And what a great example of the need for forgiveness without reconciliation or trust.

      Yes, the principle applies to work situations every bit as much as to family relationships.

      Thanks for the insight!

  5. Joe. This is some great insight. I am a quick forgiver. I really dont hold grudges. But my presumption is that everything will ‘be okay’ after the forgiveness. It isn’t. Sometimes the wounds cut — and never really heal. It’s taken me a lifetime and a divorce to figure out that pain in the past is carried by some much heavier than me. Love your insights

    • ” I am a quick forgiver. I really dont hold grudges. But my presumption is that everything will ‘be okay’ after the forgiveness.”

      By nature, this paragraph describes me well. I tend to want to simply make everything “okay.”

      However, I have learned that it is sometimes important to separate forgiveness from trust, in order to protect myself from unnecessary pain and chaos. It’s not about holding onto old hurts, but about protecting myself from unnecessary new hurts.

      Thank you, David!

      • “However, I have learned that it is sometimes important to separate forgiveness from trust, in order to protect myself from unnecessary pain and chaos. It’s not about holding onto old hurts, but about protecting myself from unnecessary new hurts.”

        My ex demands that my kids trust him. He says they are required to trust him because he is their dad. My oldest , knows the Lord and is serious about his walk( all of them are but my oldest more thoughtful and desperate to do what is right in God’s sight) . He comes back so confused by these conversations because he knows he can’t trust. I have used David and Saul as an example with him but you paint such a wonderful word picture.

        • SS, reading this, my heart breaks for your children!

          Praying, now, that God will comfort their hearts while giving them wisdom and discernment.

  6. I have read this passage exactly as you have, Joe, and it has been my guidance in just the kind of situations you describe. We need to work through all the necessary processes to fully forgive, release the offender to God, and not hold any grudges, but God does not call us to place ourselves (or anyone else!) back in jeopardy.

    I’m glad you posted this, because I think a lot of Christians assume they’ve failed in doing God’s will if they haven’t reconciled with the unreconcilable. Reconciliation has to be real from both sides, and there are even times when God instructs us to *break* fellowship with certain kinds of unrepentant wrongdoers.

    • “…a lot of Christians assume they’ve failed in doing God’s will if they haven’t reconciled with the unreconcilable.”

      Yes, and many times fellow Christians, out of ignorance, reinforce that erroneous perception.

      I love how you put this, Sylvia, “Reconciliation has to be real from both sides, and there are even times when God instructs us to *break* fellowship with certain kinds of unrepentant wrongdoers.”

      Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this important topic!

  7. Yes I have been in those relationships. Its painful to break ties with people but we can forgive without remaining in fellowship with people who aren’t safe or emotionally healthy.

    • “Its painful to break ties with people but we can forgive without remaining in fellowship with people who aren’t safe or emotionally healthy.”

      Well put, Shelly!

      Thank you, for sharing your experiences.

  8. You make so many good points here, Joe. We can forgive without falling back into harmful patterns. We can be compassionate without trusting the irresponsible. We can love without creating more pain. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here from the Word. Good stuff!

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of this issue in light of Saul and David. You are so right, forgiveness is mandatory, trust is not. I may find it easy to forgive but trust must be earned. Many times the trust will never return. One of the tendencies of a hurt person is they want to lash out and shred the reputation of those doing the hurting. True forgiveness will refuse to hurt but not keep us from carefulness in trust.

    • “Many times the trust will never return.”

      Very true, Pamela! …and that’s okay, too.

      It can be a sad and painful realization, but at times, a necessary one. Trying to force trust that has been violated and has no basis usually results in emotional and/or relational issues.

  10. I’ve known much abuse in my life, and like you’ve shared, forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation. I’ve seen cases where it does, and I rejoice in them, but often no. Sometimes, the best solution is to go separate ways. Good wisdom and advice here if followed in the context in which you’ve presented it. Love the heart God has given you for those who have been wounded.

    • This was an unexpected and painful personal discovery, for me, LauraLee.

      I assumed, early in life, that through love, grace, prayer and forgiveness all wounds could be healed and all relationships could be restored.

      Sometimes they can, and that is cause for rejoicing. Sometimes they can’t, and that is cause for sorrow.

      Yet God remains faithful, through it all!

      Thank you, for sharing, my friend!

  11. You know, Joe, something just occurred to me with your comment. About the unexpected nature and pain in your discovery. First of all, I know I’ve told you before, but I’m so sorry you had to experience that pain. I’m thankful you’ve allowed God to redeem it and help others in the process.

    What just occurred to me is that because my 1st spout of abuse (with my father) happened at such a young age, when my mom divorced him, I was relieved. And everyone else in the family and in our church was happy (from my POV) we were free from it. Praise be to God, my father didn’t continue to beat down our doors as so many abusers do.

    So for me personally, as a young adult I believed the answer to bullies and to conflict in general was flight. The first time I read this biblical account, I remember thinking, “Why didn’t anyone confront my dad and point out his sin”? Maybe he could’ve gotten some help…then I realized that meant that I needed to do the same thing for others. Odds are it wouldn’t have made a difference, but I wondered. One of the painful things for me as an adult has been how to learn to confront others in conflict. I still get sick to my stomach and hate it when it comes.

    That said, how different the abuse must’ve been for my mother as an adult (because he abused her too). This was her husband! She fell in love with him, had babies with him, and potentially was given many different pieces of advice as she dealt with him throughout the years that I didn’t witness as a young ‘un. She put up with it and accepted him back for many years before telling him he had to leave…did she too believe that it could be reconciled only to go through the same excruciating discovery as you?

    hmmm. Chewing on that. As always, I really appreciate your perspective, Joe.

    • I love your comments, here, LauraLee!

      And I especially like when we can trigger further revelations for each other… 🙂

      Yes, I expect you’re right about your Mom.

      It can be awfully hard, sometimes, knowing where to draw the line. Letting go can feel a lot like giving up…like ceasing to have faith…

      Yet, our faith is in Christ alone, not in anyone else, nor in any other relationship.

      Blessings to you, my friend!

  12. Hey Joe,

    Came over from Pete’s blog where you pointed me in this direction. Couple of things that are new to me and I need to process…

    1. I always thought that we were accountable for reconciliation and getting back the status quo for forgiveness to be complete. This is frustrating especially when you feel you have done everything you could to make amends, but the other person does not respond or repeats offense to say you have “not done enough or paid the price”.

    2. Inappropriate counsel about emotionally abusive relationships and control patterns are tweaked under “God brought you into this person’s life for this every reason that nobody else can take the hit like you do. This is when you are most needed to share the love of Christ”. So, condemnation sets in by the unreasonable expectation to stay in the hurt zone and keep getting hit. Its like walking on egg shells

    3. Your post shows that it is alright to let go sometimes while setting the person free from any holds within your heart. Sincerity of David’s heart is seen again when he hears the news of Saul’s demise. I think it is alright to bless the other person and move on. If God has restoration in His plans, He will bring it to pass.

    Thank you for pointing me here. It was the christian counsel I needed and great to see it build on a biblical precedent.

    God bless,
    Sam

    • Hey, Sam! Glad you stopped by!

      Yes, I had the same misperception for years, thinking that forgiveness had to include reconciliation and return to status quo. So long as the relationship was more distant than previously, I felt it my obligation to continue trying to “fix” things, even if I had done nothing wrong.

      A wise counselor provided much needed guidance by explaining the difference between forgiveness and trust.

      Love and forgiveness must be freely given. They cannot be earned or deserved.

      Trust, on the other hand, cannot be be given freely. Trust must be earned.

      God bless!

  13. This is just what I have been looking for and so well put! Thanks so much for putting it in such real terms and relating it to the scripture. It is so hard to separate trust from forgiveness, I tend to think they go hand in hand. I especially appreciate the phrase “Forgiveness of deep wounds does not require trust, vulnerability, or renewal of fellowship.” I needed to see this blog post!

    • “It is so hard to separate trust from forgiveness, I tend to think they go hand in hand.”

      Yes, I thought the same thing, for years. I was very blessed to have wise counsel help me see the difference, at a crucial time.

      I am so glad that God has provided such good examples for us, in scripture!

      I’m so glad you came by, Emma!

      God bless!

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