It’s Narcissist Friday!
One of the ways believers are held in abusive relationships is through an interpretation of Scripture that is well-known, but hard to support. Most of us have been taught that 1 Corinthians 13:5 teaches that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Interestingly, almost no translation of Scripture says that. Instead, the passage should read something like “thinks no evil.” Look it up for yourself and compare different versions. I think you will be surprised at how strongly a rather odd interpretation has been applied by preachers and others who tell us to “get over it.”
Recently a commenter mentioned how she felt required to continue to stay with her abuser (narcissist) and not hold his offenses against him based on this verse. We are, according to some people, supposed to both forgive and forget. That seems to be the idea here. And that allows every offense of the abuser to be a “first” offense. Instead of seeing a destructive pattern, the victim is limited to seeing only a single offense, which must be forgiven.
But abuse is cumulative. That means the effects of abuse add together. One punch to the face is quite different from many punches. One criticism is different from years of criticism. Each new blow weakens and damages the victim further. To suggest that each should be treated as the first is to deny the suffering of the victim.
Interestingly, there is little support for this idea anywhere else. Our laws, which are based on the teachings of Scripture, certainly don’t treat each offense as a first offense. The legal system recognizes patterns of behavior. Even God keeps a record of wrongs until we come to Him in faith. It would be very difficult to support this “no record of wrongs” approach from Scripture or from common sense.
Of course, the Scripture does tell us to forgive. And we should be generous with our forgiveness as an expression of love. Those who come to apologize should be heard and blessed. Those who have sins in their past should not be reminded of those sins after coming to Christ. Forgiveness is always tied to a change of thinking or at least acknowledgment of the wrong. Even our sins are forgiven, or at least forgiveness is only applied, as we come to Jesus in faith. Otherwise, as the Scripture says, “you are still in your sins.”
Without going into a long post with a boring Greek lesson, let me just say that the passage simply means we should not judge others negatively—think no evil. We should not assume the worst of a person. The old saying, “Never ascribe to malice what could be explained by stupidity,” is a fair restatement of this admonition. Don’t think that a person who causes you grief is evil. That person might just be incompetent or negligent.
And just because he looks creepy or she talks a lot doesn’t mean they are bad. Judging by skin color, choice of clothing, ability to speak clearly, or whatever will probably not give us a right assessment. Nor would it be fair or loving. Love doesn’t treat others according to stereotypes or by what they have done in their past. Love allows for change in a person or for a person to express themselves differently. Love,
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Do you see the difference? It is not unloving to see a pattern of behavior that causes others pain and suffering. It is not unloving to affirm the truth about the damage consistent abuse can do. Nor is it unloving to hold others accountable for the abuse they do. In fact, it is loving to take a molester off the streets: loving to past and potential victims and loving even toward the molester. To allow a person to continue hurting others has nothing of love in it.
It is unloving to continue to hold a particular sin or error against a person who has acknowledged the wrong and sought forgiveness. Even then, it may be difficult to forget. Keeping no record suggests that we are supposed to forget. Not only is that very difficult for humans, it is usually not wise. I might forgive someone who stole money as my bookkeeper, but I probably shouldn’t put that person in charge of my books again. And if I tell a person a secret and it is not kept, I will rightfully be hesitant to tell that person another secret. To forget (or to ignore) past offenses is quite different from forgiving them. Sometimes ignoring a person’s weaknesses and temptations can be very foolish.
So, please know that it is wise and right to see patterns of behavior and build boundaries in your life when you encounter maltreatment. Forgive as much as you can and then go to the Lord for more, but don’t ignore the truth. Abusive people, narcissistic people, usually count on our unwillingness to admit what we see. If we don’t deny the truth, we often try to cover for it. Don’t let an improper interpretation of Scripture convince you to lower your defenses against evil.