Trusting After Forgiveness: The Biblical View

A lot of people are confused about how to trust again after forgiveness of wrongs done to them. Some people teach that once you forgive someone, you have to act towards them as if the hurt or betrayal didn’t happen, and restore the relationship to the level it was before they offended you. Such people believe that not only must you forgive, you must also forget the offences committed against you. What does the Bible teach about trust after betrayal? Does Scripture actually mandate us to forget about offences committed against us? We shall examine the Bible to answer these questions.

The Hebrew word translated as “trust” in the Old Testament is “batach“. Its various meanings include “to hope in”, “to have confidence in”, “to be sure of”, and “to take refuge in”. Biblically speaking, to trust someone implies being sure of the person, or having confidence or hope in the person. The Scripture is unambiguous about the need to forgive all offences without reservation. Forgiveness is a commandment and not a choice. To forgive someone simply means to pardon them for their transgression and not to hold it against them; it means not to hold malice or grudges against people who offend us. However, the issue of trusting someone again after you’ve forgiven them is a different ballgame altogether. We’re not commanded to continue to place confidence in the person, in the area he or she has betrayed us. That’s entirely our choice. The choice to trust someone again or not, depends on a lot of factors which we will now consider. Let’s examine David’s relationship with Saul to see how trust should be applied to people who continually plot evil against us.

1 Samuel 26:1 The Ziphites went to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding on the hill of Hakilah, which faces Jeshimon?”

1 Samuel 26:2 So Saul went down to the Desert of Ziph, with his three thousand select Israelite troops, to search there for David.

1 Samuel 26:3 Saul made his camp beside the road on the hill of Hakilah facing Jeshimon, but David stayed in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul had followed him there,

1 Samuel 26:4 he sent out scouts and learned that Saul had definitely arrived.

1 Samuel 26:5 Then David set out and went to the place where Saul had camped. He saw where Saul and Abner son of Ner, the commander of the army, had lain down. Saul was lying inside the camp, with the army encamped around him.

1 Samuel 26:6 David then asked Ahimelek the Hittite and Abishai son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, “Who will go down into the camp with me to Saul?” “I’ll go with you,” said Abishai.

1 Samuel 26:7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.

1 Samuel 26:8 Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.”

1 Samuel 26:9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?

1 Samuel 26:10 As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.

1 Samuel 26:11 But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”

1 Samuel 26:12 So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and they left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep.

1 Samuel 26:13 Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the hill some distance away; there was a wide space between them.

1 Samuel 26:14 He called out to the army and to Abner son of Ner, “Aren’t you going to answer me, Abner?” Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”

1 Samuel 26:15 David said, “You’re a man, aren’t you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn’t you guard your lord the king? Someone came to destroy your lord the king.

1 Samuel 26:16 What you have done is not good. As surely as the LORD lives, you and your men must die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed. Look around you. Where are the king’s spear and water jug that were near his head?”

1 Samuel 26:17 Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is that your voice, David my son?” David replied, “Yes it is, my lord the king.”

1 Samuel 26:18 And he added, “Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of?

1 Samuel 26:19 Now let my lord the king listen to his servant’s words. If the LORD has incited you against me, then may he accept an offering. If, however, people have done it, may they be cursed before the LORD! They have driven me today from my share in the LORD’s inheritance and have said, ’Go, serve other gods.’

1 Samuel 26:20 Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the LORD. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea —as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

1 Samuel 26:21 Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.”

1 Samuel 26:22 “Here is the king’s spear,” David answered. “Let one of your young men come over and get it.

1 Samuel 26:23 The LORD rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness. The LORD delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed.

1 Samuel 26:24 As surely as I valued your life today, so may the LORD value my life and deliver me from all trouble.”

1 Samuel 26:25 Then Saul said to David, “May you be blessed, David my son; you will do great things and surely triumph.” So David went on his way, and Saul returned home (NIV).

King Saul made several attempts on David’s life, motivated by envy and jealousy. One each occasion, God miraculously saved David. David had several opportunities to kill Saul who was pursuing him unjustly, but he spared Saul on every occasion. David readily forgave Saul for his hatred and murderous attempts on his life, and continued to show him unwavering loyalty. However, the more David forgave Saul, the more Saul hatched even more devilish schemes to eliminate him. It finally dawned on David that Saul could not be trusted. David finally realised that he couldn’t be safe around Saul. He had forgiven Saul, but to trust Saul and re-establish the warm relationship they once enjoyed was to invite his untimely death.

Envy and jealousy are not traits that are easily expunged from the human heart. Once they grab someone and inspire the person to plot harm and evil against you, flee from that relationship! David realised it late, but it was better late than never. He had to flee from Saul to save his life, though he had forgiven Saul who appeared to have repented. Don’t trust someone who deliberately tried to kill or harm you, even though they appear to have repented and you’ve forgiven them! Saul “repented” and “felt sorry” so many times for trying to kill David, but that didn’t stop him from continuing with his evil plots! It was only when David fled out of Israel, out of Saul’s reach, that Saul stopped seeking after his life. Cut off any close relationships with anyone found to have plotted evil against you, even after they’ve apologised and appear to have repented. For all you know, they may just be feigning repentance to lull you into complacency about your security. They may just be acting like Saul, to give you a false sense of security. If you trust such people readily again, you may just be signing your death warrant!

1 Samuel 27:1 But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.”

1 Samuel 27:2 So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maok king of Gath.

1 Samuel 27:3 David and his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal.

1 Samuel 27:4 When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him (NIV).

Next, let’s examine the issue of trust when someone has defrauded us and we have forgiven them. Are we obliged to trust such persons again with our finances and other resources? How should we deal with people who have deceitfully taken advantage of us and cheated us? Let’s turn to Scripture to find the mind of God on this issue.

St. Luke 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.

St. Luke 16:2 So he called him in and asked him, ’What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

St. Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

St. Luke 16:11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

St. Luke 16:12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (NIV).

Someone who has displayed dishonesty in the management of resources, especially money, should not be trusted easily in that regard. If someone is dishonest in little things, he’ll be dishonest in big things. You should forgive people all offences, but you’re not obliged to trust them in such matters again, till they prove themselves trustworthy. Like the rich man in the parable above did to his dishonest manager, quickly relieve any dishonest person of the responsibility of managing whatever you’ve committed into their hands. If you keep them, they will commit greater fraud. The wise thing to do is to refuse to trust them again in that capacity, until they earn your trust. Trust, unlike forgiveness, should be earned. The prudent thing to do is to test people in little things first, before committing greater responsibilities to them. If they prove trustworthy in small things, then they can be trusted with bigger responsibilities. That’s what the Scripture teaches.

1 Timothy 3:8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.

1 Timothy 3:9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.

1 Timothy 3:10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons (NIV).

In terms of emotional/ romantic relationships, trust should be carefully separated from love. Love can exist without trust in certain areas of the relationship. Loving someone is not the same as trusting them. In relationships, like in every other aspects of life, trust should be earned. If your partner has a weakness or fault in an area, love him/her despite his/her faults or weaknesses, but don’t trust them in their weak area until they’ve proved themselves worthy of trust in those areas. Don’t expose them to temptations in their areas of weaknesses. They may love you alright, but because of weaknesses and besetting sins, they may betray your trust in their areas of weakness, if you trust without proof of trustworthiness. You can’t safely trust a spouse who’s not virtuous!

Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

Proverbs 31:11 The heart of her husband does safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.

Proverbs 31:12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life (AKJV).

Love your partner and be ready to forgive their shortcomings unreservedly. However, do not place unjustified confidence or trust in anyone. Don’t let emotions blind your sense of judgement/reasoning. That you love your wife doesn’t mean you should trust her with your money, if she’s a spendthrift who has proved incompetent in managing money. That you love your husband doesn’t mean you should trust him with the housemaid or your female friends, if he’s an inverterate womaniser. Wisdom is profitable to direct. Trusting a goat to take care of your yam is not wisdom, however much you love the goat. Be wise!

Matthew 7:6 Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you (ESV).

It’s true that people can change for the better (just as they can change for the worse too). It’s true that people can repent and be converted. It’s true that the Holy Spirit can transform people. However, when such changes occur in people, they should be visible, palpable and demonstrable for all to see. Pray and make room for positive changes in people, and hope for the best for them. However, until you see hard evidence of change, don’t trust people who have failed you in the past. Test people first before trusting them. Trust should be earned and not handed out on a platter, without proof of trustworthiness! Trusting without proof is living in fantasy land! That’s like building your house on sinking sand.That house is headed for a monumental collapse! Learn from the way the disciples were cautious in trusting Saul, the persecutor, when he converted to Christianity. They had to be sure he was truly converted before trusting to have fellowship with him, because of his antecedent as the greatest persecutor of Christians! That’s wisdom!

The Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

The Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

The Acts 9:28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (NIV).

Finally, though we’re commanded to forgive all offences, we’re never told to forget them, simply because we can’t! Except you’re suffering from some form of amnesia, you can’t forget people’s betrayals. You’re not supposed to forget, even though you’re not to hold it against them or bear malice or grudges towards them. And certainly, you’re not to repay evil with evil. But, you must not forget the lessons you learnt from the experience. The most important lesson to learn from offences and betrayals is that, humans are imperfect creatures with capacity for both good and evil. We learn from people’s shortcomings to trust cautiously, so as to mitigate the harm others can do to us. Our dealings with people is the greatest source of education in human psychology we can ever have. People’s past actions and behaviours, especially in their unguarded moments, are a better predictor of their character than anything they say about themselves. Every encounter should help us define people with respect to who can be trusted in what area. That knowledge is invaluable in minimising future conflicts with others, as well as in mitigating the injury they can do to us.

2 Timothy 4:14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.

2 Timothy 4:15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message (NIV).

In conclusion, we must forgive all men their trespasses, but we are not obliged to trust all again. Trust, unlike forgiveness, must be earned. People must demonstrate trustworthiness before we place our confidence in them. To do otherwise is to be imprudent, and we may suffer dearly for such lack of wisdom in dealing with people. We must learn from betrayals, and apply the lessons learnt in order to prevent or mitigate future occurrences. To forgive is not to forget!

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi E. Ojo

Dr Ojo is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a student of the Word of God, who believes firmly in the original apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian conduct, order and doctrine.

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