Dr. John B. MacDonald
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If forgiveness is the process of rebuilding damaged or broken relationships, what damages or breaks a relationship?

You're probably already aware of these six relational breaking points. Here's a few tests to get you thinking.

 

What do you think?

What do you think about the following scenarios:

  • You accidently bump into a stranger on a crowded bus. Have you damaged or broken a relationship?
  • A friend misunderstands something you said and disagrees with you. Is your relationship damaged?

To each of these you probably say, “no.”

I agree.  

Each of these are minor issues. A simple, “excuse me” or “sorry” will suffice on a bus. “What do you mean by that?” or “did you mean …?” quickly clears up a misunderstanding. The relationships remain unchanged, so there’s nothing damaged or broken. There is no need here for the process of rebuilding a relationship; no need to forgive or be forgiven.

Now let's add a couple of twists

  • What if you steal the stranger’s wallet as you bump into him?
  • What if your friend gets angry with you and calls you a liar?

“Ah, that’s different,” you say.

I agree. But why is it different?

Let's begin with boundaries – relational boundaries.

 

What is a relational boundary? 

Every genuine relationship has a boundary or boundaries that define its existence and integrity.

It began with God. He defined his relationship with Adam with a simple boundary (Genesis 2:16-17):

"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

God was extravagantly generous: "you are free to eat from any tree in the garden." Yet he reserved something for himself alone which became a boundary that defined the existence and integrity of the relationship between the human and the Creator. The human was human, not God. The 'boundary' drawn between the human and the fruit of that particular tree defined that distinction.

Later, we read that Adam “ate it” (Genesis 3:6). By stepping over that boundary, Adam broke the relationship with God.

Here's another example

The relationship of marriage has a boundary of exclusive sexual intimacy. The husband is exclusively for his wife; the wife is exclusively for her husband. Sexual intimacy with anyone else is stepping over a boundary that defines the existence and integrity of that marriage relationship. The result is a damaged, possibly a broken, marriage.

How do we identify these relational boundaries?

 

'Where' are these relational boundaries?  

When I ask 'where' are these relational boundaries, I'm simply asking how do we identify what these relational boundaries are.

My fundamental starting point for locating relational boundaries is the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21). 

One of these boundaries is “You shall not steal.” So pickpocketing a stranger’s wallet is stepping over this relational boundary.

By the way, the six relational breaking points among humans are:

  1. Not honoring your father and mother;
  2. Murder;
  3. Adultery;
  4. Stealing;
  5. Lies about your 'neighbors'; and,
  6. Lusting after your 'neighbor's possessions' – and that includes house, spouse, employees, donkeys, cars, and so forth.

Jesus defined these relational boundaries more clearly (e.g., Matthew 5-7).

Here's what Jesus says about your angry friend who calls you a liar – or maybe it was you who spoke in anger to your friend (Matthew 5:21-23): 

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother …  anyone who says to his brother, [‘you good-for-nothing’] … anyone who says, 'You fool!' … .

And don’t go all “lawyer” on me by saying, “he’s just my friend not my brother” – you get the point.

So relational boundaries are located at those six places. Those six relational breaking points are not simply measured in actions and words, but also in thoughts and attitudes like anger, lust, and envy. After all such thoughts and attitudes have a way of alienating affections toward others, and growing into words and actions.

Now that you have an idea where the relational boundaries are, how do you know when you've stepped over the line?

 

Have you stepped over a boundary?

We don’t usually need to ask this question. It's rare when we don't realize we've stepped over the line. 

If you’re in doubt, ask. You can say something like, “Did I offend you when I said or did [fill in the blank]?”

And when you ask, be prepared to listen and then take the right action. These are issues that we will address in future posts – so “stay tuned.” 

Here’s a couple of things to do.

First, do you have anything you want to say about this post? Let me know by writing me by clicking on this link.

Second, are you aware of any relational boundary you have stepped over? Jot down the situation as you are reminded of it, and there may be more than one. Keep this situation in mind as we move forward in this series on forgiveness.

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Photo credit: ank0ku via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

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