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Entries in forgiveness (2)


More Thoughts on Forgiveness

Last week, I shared some thoughts on forgiveness that I had earlier shared with some of my students and a few members of our church. As I mentioned, I received numerous responses to this subject. One notable question came from a member at our church who asked about the limits of forgiveness—specifically whether we are required to forgive those who do not actually ask for forgiveness. She said that she heard a prominent minister on television (you would recognize the name, but I'd prefer not to mention it since I cannot confirm the statement) say that we aren't required to forgive those who never ask for forgiveness.

This is certainly an interesting idea, but I think at the root of it might be an excuse not to offer forgiveness to those who are the most difficult to forgive. Forgiveness is never easy. It is the difficult option, not the easy one.

With all due respect to the minister my fellow church member mentioned, I disagree with this position, and here’s why.

It’s true that there are passages in the Bible that refer to a direct connection between repentance and forgiveness such as

“Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3—all references in this post from the HCSB). However, I don’t ever see any direct statement in Scripture that echoes what this minister was saying—that we don’t have to forgive someone if that person does not ask for forgiveness.

This is in spite of numerous passages about forgiving others which never mention anything about forgiveness being dependent upon repentance or a request for forgiveness:

"And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12).


"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing" (Mark 11:25).

In fact, Luke 11:4 says we are to forgive everyone in our debt:

"And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves also forgive everyone [πᾶς = all, the whole]
in debt to us.”

Most importantly, I think Jesus offers the greatest example in his words from the cross:

"Then Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing'" (Luke 23:34).

Those who crucified Jesus certainly didn’t ask for forgiveness. I think this alone counters the idea that a receiver of forgiveness must request it first. [Note: I realize that there are issues regarding the manuscript evidence for this statement by Jesus, but strong arguments can be made on both sides. For recent discussions, see Marshal (NIGTC) and Comfort (NTTTC).]

Now all of this is not to diminish the horrendous acts people commit against one another.Forgiveness can often be a long process and is rarely quickly resolved. In fact, there are some who have suffered such horrible acts that I would not judge them at all if they could not reach the point of forgiveness in this life.

However, the other side of forgiveness is that not only does it rob power from the offender, it also creates power in the victim over the offender. To say to someone who doesn’t ask forgiveness, “I forgive you” accomplishes what Paul said when he wrote

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head” (Rom 12:20).

Forgiveness is not always easy, but it is liberating if it can be achieved.


Finding Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, I was leading my New Testament Survey class in a devotion based upon 1 Corinthians 13, and for a while we got stuck on v. 5: “love…does not keep a record of wrongs” (HCSB). I made the statement, "Sometimes, I hear people say, ‘I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.'" I questioned the level of forgiveness offered if someone makes such a statement.

Of course, this opened up a floodgate of questions about what it really means to forgive someone. A number of my students opened up about very deep hurts they had faced in life with some describing how they had found forgiveness for the person who had hurt them and left emotional scars felt for many years. Another student described her hurt and admitted that she had not forgiven the person and didn’t know if she ever could or even wanted to. She was encouraged by those who had faced similar situations and had managed to overcome what had been done to them.

It was a very emotional time; lots of tears flowed. My fifteen minute devotional and prayer time lasted an entire hour! Of course, it was a New Testament Survey class, and we were studying Paul’s epistles that evening, so I had my justification ready if administration had walked in and asked why we were taking so long for our devotional.

Anyway, I’ve continued to think about this discussion, and a few days ago I wrote a devotional for another class, which is online. I thought I would share it with all of you here. Surely there are not easy answers for the most deep-seated hurts in our lives. But I do personally know that forgiveness is freeing and allows us to move forward in the journey to which God has called us.

Here’s what I shared with my online class:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.
(Matt 18:21–22 HCSB)

When Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother’s sin seven times, he thought he was being generous. Jewish tradition (but not biblical command!) said a person should be forgiven three times. So, Peter was offering twice that plus one!

Surely Peter thought he was being quite generous. I’m certain he was not expecting Jesus’ response that we should forgive each other “seventy times seven.” What does this mean? Well, Jesus wasn't raising the bar to simply a higher number—that is, 70 x 7 = 490. My wife sometimes jokingly says, “Sorry, that’s 491, and I’m all out of forgiveness for you!”

No, Jesus was saying that we simply shouldn’t keep count. That’s easier said than done for most of us.

I have occasionally heard people say, “I might forgive, but I won’t forget!” I think just making that statement proves one hasn’t quite reached the state of forgiveness yet.

Of course, someone can easily respond, “But you don’t know what so-and-so did to me.” Well, it’s true that there are very deep hurts that we often experience in life. And, let’s be honest, there are different levels of hurt. There’s a scale of offense, is there not?

There’s the hurt of someone lying to us, or breaking a confidence, or failing to keep a promise. There’s the pain of hurtful words and betrayal. And then there’s the hurt that is nearly unfathomable: abuse, molestation and even taking the life of someone we love. Those who survive such atrocities are usually never quite the same.

What does it mean to forgive? I believe the starting place for understanding forgiveness is to look at what happens when God forgives us. The Psalmist writes,

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.
(103:12 HCSB)

When God forgives, our offenses no longer count against us in regard to our relationship and standing with Him. How do we offer the same level of forgiveness with each other?

Well, it’s one thing to be forgiving of the neighbor who borrows your lawnmower and returns it without telling you he hit enough rocks that you’ll have to get the blades resharpened. But those more serious offenses aren’t always so easily resolved.

Remember when we were children? One of us might get angry at another and say something unkind or worse, strike our playmate. Our parents or teachers then made us say we were sorry. We quickly made up, forgave each other and went back to playing. But it’s not so easy in the “adult” world, is it?

I believe we have to start with being willing to be forgiving in the little things. From there we can develop an attitude of forgiveness that allows us to seek reconciliation whenever we can.

Certainly, it’s true that we can’t simply say, “I forgive” and it be so. But we can work toward that. In those really big offenses, and especially in those horrendous acts that sometimes occur in life, we may need a great amount of time to process our movement toward forgiveness. We might need the help of a Christian counselor or other mature Christians who can help us down this part of our journey.

Even actual forgiveness doesn’t mean that we put ourselves or our loved ones in harmful or vulnerable positions. However, if we keep unforgiveness in our hearts, we risks our own hearts becoming hardened. If we refuse to forgive, then we allow the one who wronged us to still have power over us. We let the offender win—we even risk letting evil win.

God wants more from us because he wants us to be whole. Sometimes the journey is uphill. But ultimately, we must forgive just as he forgave us. And aren’t we glad he did, in fact, forgive us!

Is there any unforgiveness in your heart toward someone who hurt you—perhaps even long ago? What steps will you take to find forgiveness so that you can move past whatever it is that is holding you back emotionally and spiritually?


I also shared these thoughts via email with a Bible study group I teach at church. I've received a number of positive responses from friends of mine who were struggling with forgiveness toward individuals who had wronged them. One person asked me a very good question—almost a rebuttal to the ideas presented above. I'll come back and share that question in a couple of days as well as my response.