But how do we know the right option?
Yes, some offenses require repentance before granting forgiveness, but there are other offenses that must be overlooked if we are to survive in any relationship (1 Peter 4:8; Prov. 10:12; 12:16; 19:11). But when to do what?
Here are some questions to ask to help us decide if we are to “cover” or “overlook” an offense.
1. What is my tendency? If I tend to default to confrontation, have I pushed myself harder to cover? If my tendency is to cover, have I sufficiently considered the need to confront?
2. Am I just trying to avoid confrontation? If my motive is primarily to avoid unwanted confrontation, then covering may simply be the easy option, not the right one.
3. Am I just trying to avoid addressing problems on my side? I may be motivated to cover rather than confront, if confronting would mean addressing faults on my side too.
4. How important is this? If the offense is small enough, we may overlook?
5. How clear is this? If my grievance is more about personal preferences and cultural norms than clear moral right and wrong, then overlooking is the right choice.
6. Does the person show a pattern of this kind of behavior? If it’s just a one-off and out-of-character, then it is easier to cover than if this has become a regular habit.
7. Will overlooking the fault hurt or damage the other person? Am I doing the person more harm than good by failing to help them address moral failings.
8. Have other people been hurt or damaged? If it’s just me, then covering is more likely to be an option than if others have also been offended.
9. Does this have the potential to spread? If the offending attitude, words, or actions, might make others do similar things, then confronting rather than covering is the answer.
10. What else is going on in this person’s world? Are there stress factors which may mitigate the fault? A related question is “What’s going on in my world?” Am I under stress and overreacting to minor issues, or, alternatively, avoiding issues because I’m too stressed?
11. Are there bigger faults to confront first? Sometimes tackling a small issue can result in a person refusing to hear us on far bigger issues.
12. Was it intentional? If the person committed the offense deliberately and with full knowledge of doing wrong, then confronting is required, not covering.
You’ll find great teaching on forgiveness in the following list of my favorite books on the subject, the first two being outstanding.
Top Books On Forgiveness
Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns
From Forgiven To Forgiving by Jay Adams
The Freedom And Power of Forgiveness by John Macarthur
Macarthur disagrees with Adams slightly in the area of conditional forgiveness.
Help, I Can’t Forgive! By Jim Newcomer
This is a brief but comprehensive booklet.
Revolutionary Forgiveness by Eric E Wright
I disagree with Wright’s view of forgiving the unrepentant, but still much helpful material in the book. Multiple anecdotes help to “earth” the problem in everyday life.
Embodying Forgiveness by L. Gregory Jones
The most academic and demanding of the books in the list.
The New Freedom of Forgiveness by David Ausburger. Read through the filter of the first two books in this list.