It’s Okay to Forgive from a Distance

quote: "You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm" from The Healthy.

I heard something in a sermon that changed my perspective on Matthew 5:38 and resonated with my understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus said, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” 

The pastor said that it was the custom of the time, when slapping someone, to use the back of the right hand. (Note: One never used the left hand because they used it for “unclean purposes” thus, the tradition today of shaking hands with the right hand and not the left.) When Jesus said, “turn the other check,” he was not suggesting that we tolerate abuse. Rather, turning the other cheek forced the one who slaps to use the back of their left hand, thus humbling* them, or bringing them down a notch. The victim can then stand in strength, rather than become a doormat who accepts abuse or mistreatment. (*Etymology of the word humble meaning “on the ground, low, trifling” from humus “the earth, ground.”)

Jesus also taught us, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” This scripture reminds me of the words in the image above. “I am not required to set myself on fire to keep others warm.”

Unfortunately, I learned the wrong message growing up in the church. I learned that turning the other cheek meant I needed to let others trample my feelings and cross my personal boundaries. I believed that setting a boundary meant I had not forgiven that person. Wrong!

A recent barrage of verbal trampling by a narcissist tore me to pieces and sent me reeling into a major depression. Through prayer, spending time in scripture and help from my wonderful husband and spiritual companions, God pulled me out of that dark pit of despair. I knew it was time to stand firm in God’s light, turn the other cheek, and send a clear message that I did not deserve to be trampled.

Forgiveness is possible, but sometimes it is only possible from a distance. Forcing oneself to tolerate abuse is NOT what Jesus intended in Matthew 5:38. Turning the other cheek is an opportunity to send the message that, as children of God, we have great value, are sacred and precious (like pearls) and allowing another to trample his children (verbally, emotionally, spiritually or physically) is not okay with God and should not be okay with us.

Today, I’m turning the other cheek by setting firm boundaries and asking Holy Spirit to help me forgive. Maybe loving and forgiving from a distance will help the person believe they are a beloved child of God, too.

3 responses to “It’s Okay to Forgive from a Distance”

    • For me, it is a delicate balance of looking past one’s behavior and seeing their pain, yet, still setting boundaries to prevent further mistreatment. Only through the power of Holy Spirit.


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