It’s sometimes hard to know what to do about trust after you’ve forgiven someone. For example, when a child lies to her parents and seeks forgiveness, do you trust her? Or, perhaps even more difficult, when a spouse commits adultery and seeks forgiveness, do you trust the spouse? It seems like the common solution is to land here: I forgive them but they will have to earn back my trust.
But what about 1 Cor. 13:7?
If you take the position that offenders must earn back your trust, how do you deal with a passage like 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV) which tells us that love always trusts?
It seems to me that it might be helpful to view the trust issue from this perspective. When others seek my forgiveness, I’m going to trust them. I’m going to trust that they are genuinely repentant. I’m going to trust that they sincerely want to change, and don’t want to go back to the sin for which they have sought forgiveness. I’m going to trust that they would welcome my coming alongside them to help them not fall into that trap again. Therefore, I’m going to do everything I can to make it easy for them to do what is right, and hard for them to do what is wrong.
In the case of a child who has lied that might look like restricting the child from situations that tempt her to lie until she has developed more spiritual muscle. For example, you might not allow the child to spend unsupervised time at the mall if that’s the setting which tempted the child to lie. It might also look like providing consequences so that the child is helped to remember how serious lying is. In other words, you trust that the child genuinely doesn’t want to lie to you again, and you put a plan in place to help the child succeed in that God-honoring desire.
In the case of a spouse who has committed adultery, you would trust that the spouse genuinely doesn’t want to sin against God and against you by getting involved with an outside party again. Thus, you might request that your spouse give you access to his or her cell phone records, to e-mails, or facebook interaction. You might request that your spouse be involved in regular counseling and accountability. You might request your spouse make job changes. The goal of this is to strengthen your spouse as he or she seeks to grow in faithfulness and demonstrate the fruit of repentance. You trust that the spouse sincerely desires to change.
Your reason for showing this trust in those whom you have forgiven must spring from a heart which ultimately trusts in God, not in man. God alone is trustworthy and the same God who instructed us that love always trusts also made it clear that our ultimate trust is not to be in man but in Him (see for example Jeremiah 17:5-8). Forgive others and trust in God. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy. They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness. He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Ps. 111:7-10 NIV)