Vindicating Forgiveness

I sat at lunch with a dear friend recently, swapping stories of past hurts and current healing. Sadly, neither of us was surprised by the other’s experiences of betrayed friendships and smeared reputations, spiritualized power plays and politicized cover-ups. And although we both have been delivered from these abusive situations, the doubts and insecurities they raised within us linger on. The questions they raised about our honor remain unanswered; the accusations they implied about our character stand uncontested. In a way, we both feel like we were taken apart by a team of ruthless examiners and then left in pieces, abandoned on the workbench.

Public shame calls for public honor.

What would finally allow all the pieces to be made whole again? What would lay these past wounds to rest and free us to move on?

In a moment of brutal honesty, we admitted that we want vindication. We want the record set straight about who we are and how we have been treated. We may privately know the truth, but as long as public perception remains inaccurate, the past cannot be laid to rest.

Is vindication a godly desire? Shouldn’t forgiveness eradicate our need for it?

When I think of forgiveness, I picture Jesus on the cross, reputation thoroughly trashed and body totally thrashed, crying out to God to forgive the people who were treating Him this way. No vehement self-defense. No retaliatory threats. Just compassionate, sacrificial love.

Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer– it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
Psalm 17:1-2

And yet when I read the Psalms (including some of the messianic ones), I can’t escape their repeated prayers for vindication. These prayers are what David claims to be a righteous response to being falsely accused and unjustly persecuted. At least he is going to God for vindication rather than taking it into his own hands, but shouldn’t he just let it go altogether?

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.
Psalm 26:1-3

But he can’t. The fact is that even in God’s economy, honor matters. David’s integrity has been denounced, and he is coming to the righteous Judge to make it right. He is asking God to look him over, check to see if he is alright, and reapply the stamp of approval that others have stolen from him.

O LORD, you have seen this; be not silent. Do not be far from me, O Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me. Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!” or say, “We have swallowed him up.” … May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
Psalm 35:22-27

And a private awards ceremony won’t cut it. Knowing that God sees and knows the truth about him isn’t enough. David boldly asks God to make public what He has already affirmed in private. He has been attacked and shamed before the eyes of others; now he is asking God to restore his honor in the same sphere.

This isn’t just about David’s reputation. It’s about God’s. Is He or is He not just? Does He or does He not care about the well-being of those who entrust themselves to Him? God’s vindication of His servant will vindicate His own character before a watching world.

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Matthew 26:62-64

And this is exactly what I see happening in Jesus’ story. At the height of His trial, in the midst of cruel insults and relentless accusations, He broke His silence to answer a direct attack against His identity as God’s Son. He told His accusers that they would one day witness what they were currently denying. He had no need to argue His position now because God would prove Him right later. He would not defend His honor now because God would publicly exalt it later.

Entrusting our vindication to God allows us to extend forgiveness to others.

Jesus’ ability to forgive His accusers was predicated on His certainty that God would vindicate Him before their eyes. He could let go of His honor because He knew that God wouldn’t.

So is it wrong to ask God for vindication? Far from being wrong, I think it demonstrates a deep trust in God’s righteousness and an unwavering confidence in His unfailing love. Taking vindication into our own hands would betray our lack of faith in God’s justice. Downplaying the idea that God will vindicate us would deny the extent of His care for each of His beloved children, including ourselves. But entrusting our need for vindication to Him allows us to extend forgiveness to others.

We can love them because He first loved us. We can forgive them because He won’t forget us.

18 thoughts on “Vindicating Forgiveness”

  1. Another wow. I had assumed my desire for vindication, for the world to know the wrongs done, and the true character of those who hurt (not just me, but those I love) as a sinful one. Thank you for your writing!

    1. Laura, I think that is a common assumption among Christians. We don’t want to fall into the sin of retaliating and taking vindication into our own hands, so we go to the other extreme of thinking it is wrong to want vindication at all. Obviously it wouldn’t be very godly (or loving) to completely obsess over getting God to vindicate us, but I think the desire is a right one, especially when we go to Him with it and lay it in His hands to with what He wants and when He wants. In your case, I suspect that your desire for the record to be set straight stems from your love for those who have been wronged. I think that reflects God’s heart for the abused and oppressed!

  2. What about if the offense is within your own camp, like when King David brought his brothers food and then decided to fight Goliath and they kept telling him how he was unworthy and to go home? Is it wrong to ask for vindication when the offender is also a believer who acted sinfully?

    1. That is a hard one, Joann. I think that asking God for vindication is always appropriate, but it is also something that we have to hold together with loving and forgiving our neighbor. Vindication doesn’t necessarily mean that we want something horrible to happen to them; we are just asking God to intervene in a way that causes the truth to come to light. My favorite kind of vindication (especially in situations like you mention) is when God’s Spirit stirs in the other person’s heart, causing them to recognize where they have been wrong and to voluntarily confess it. Beautiful! Then we all can go home happy, restored, and rooting for each other! That is usually the kind of scenario I have in mind when I pray for vindication in relation to fellow believers or family members, though I recognize that that is not always the way God works. Part of going to Him for vindication rather than trying to accomplish it ourselves is relinquishing the right to determine how and when it will happen. Meaning, I trust that He will bring it about in a way that reflects both His love for me and His love for the other person.

      1. I really like what you said about vindication is not asking for something horrible to happen to the person. I think I have confused vindication with retaliation. I have probably felt very Old Testament “an eye for an eye” in my hurt I was really wanting God to give the person equal pain and punishment. I am praying for this person to see truth in their evaluations of my behavior and not overlay false perceptions and lies and accuse me of false motives. I want restoration an peace! I covet your prayers!

      2. I am and have been praying. The beautiful thing about having God as our judge is that He knows the truth about our motives and everyone else’s. He judges rightly. Thankfully, He also judges mercifully. When I stop to think about the times I have hurt others (whether intentionally or not), I have to beg Him to be merciful with me. When I stop to think about what it would actually look like for Him to harm the person who has wronged me to the same extent that I have been hurt, I draw back in horror and beg Him to be merciful with them. May He fill your heart with the certainty of His compassionate love for you, overflowing in turn to those who have hurt you.

  3. In recent years, I have pondered this question. Thank you for the thought-provoking insight. However, where I have most often become stuck is when considering the question of is it right to ask for God’s vindication against other believers? When hurt by brothers and sisters in Christ, is it right to hope that someday they will know that they are wrong and have acted wrongly? I know that Christ died for them, taking the penalty for their sin upon Himself, but can they then act wrongly and commit sin against their brothers and sisters in Christ without suffering any consequence? Will they never know that they are in the wrong? This is where I struggle to grasp God’s justice while all the while knowing that His justice was poured on His Son on their behalf. I also understand that I need to relinquish my pride and forgive, knowing that there may be no consequence, and my duty is to love as Christ loved us.

    1. You are grappling with some tough questions, Elizabeth, ones that don’t necessarily have simple answers. I think the starting point is to ask God for a loving heart towards them, to ask Him to bring good into their lives. I’m not sure if you saw my post on “Bless them or Bring them Down?”, but it might shed some light on what you are asking about. I think it is possible to, from loving heart that desires their good, ask God to convict them of their wrong so that they will repent and be forgiven. Yes, Jesus has taken the guilt of our sins on Himself, but His forgiveness is predicated on our confession. That is why we come to Him and ask Him to point out where we are wrong, opening ourselves to the work of His Spirit to convict so that we can be fully restored. So asking Him to do that to someone else is a loving prayer. Sometimes I even go so far as to ask Him to do whatever it takes to get His message through, both for their sake and for my own.

      In terms of consequences, you might read my last reply to a question similar to yours. You are right: the consequences of other’s wrong actions are up to God. We don’t predetermine what we are asking Him to do. We are simply laying a wrong, unresolved situation before the Judge, asking Him to make it right. Having done so, I find it possible to let it go and forgive, because I know that eventually He will work it all out in a way that reflects His love for them and for me, that restores my honor while doing what is right for theirs, too.

      Jesus loves us unconditionally, but He doesn’t forgive unconditionally. He humbled Himself to raise us up, but He first requires that we bow our knee in humility and exalt Him as Lord.

  4. “He had no need to argue His position now because God would prove Him right later. He would not defend His honor now because God would publicly exalt it later.”

    This happened to me exactly one year after I left my first abusive church. Exactly one year later I was publicly vindicated as the pastor was caught in an affair and removed from ministry permanently.

    Now, with my second spiritually abusive church behind me, I wait.

    Thank you, again, for writing my heart.

    1. Praise God for His faithfulness in following through with your first situation. It makes it that much easier to trust Him with the second. I join you in watching to see what He will do. I pray that it won’t take anything that extreme!

  5. Reblogged this on When Church Hurts and commented:
    “He had no need to argue His position now because God would prove Him right later. He would not defend His honor now because God would publicly exalt it later.”

    This happened to me exactly one year after I left my first abusive church. Exactly one year later I was publicly vindicated as the pastor was caught in an affair and removed from ministry permanently.

    Now, with my second spiritually abusive church behind me, I wait.

    Thank you, again, for writing my heart.

  6. Tiffany, You’re listed above me on Inspired Bloggers. God knew I needed this. Maybe I’ve needed it for a long time. When slander and lies make a mess of your life it’s hard to ignore. I know I’ve forgiven, but you’re right I’ve long prayed that the Lord would bring the truth to light. Thank you for this. You have a new follower. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Deb. I’m glad He applied the balm of His Word to your wound. It still amazes me how brilliant He is at knowing the places in our souls that still need resolution, long after we have forgotten them. He answers prayers that I forgot I ever prayed! May He make your righteousness shine like the sun.

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