Thursday, 30 July 2009


I've been wondering about whether it is possible to forgive someone who has wronged you if they do not repent of the wrong done.  And what if they completely deny that they even did the said wrong?

What do you think?

At the moment I'm thinking that it is impossible to forgive without genuine repentence.  It is possible, however, to love.  I can love someone if they do not repent.  I can pray for them.  I don't think I can forgive.

But then I think about Jesus saying, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do" and I'm no longer so certain. 

Something for me to think about and I would love your input.


Mike said...

its a tough one. If not, it would call into question such acts of forgiveness as proclaimed by Frank Retief over the murder of people in his church, and Kathy Diosy in the book, Forgiving Hitler.

What makes you think that forgiveness is a two way thing - in the sense that it requires an act from the guilty party? Can it not be an attitude I adopt, or something that I do, irrespective of that person? I wonder if there is some confusion (or overlap!) between the terms forgiveness and reconciliation. Because I would suggests that certainly reconciliation cannot happen without repentance, but maybe forgiveness can. Unless I am thinking of just-not-holding-a-grudge rather than true forgiveness.

Miroslav Volf has written some stuff on this. I don't think its his main book on the them, but End of Memory is excellent. In it he explores what it means to live with the memory of abuse, and puts into practise his ideas with the memory of his own torture and the torturer responsible. I think he's written a book on forgiveness itself, but I've not read it. But I found his stuff excellent, bringing profound theology into more practical virtue.

Rachael said...

Thanks, Mike. You have some helpful suggestions. I guess the question is, where does forgiveness fit on the scale between love and reconciliation. Love can clearly be one-sided. Reconciliation is clearly about two parties being recociled to each other. Where does forgiveness fit between the two?

Does God forgive us before we repent? He loves us, though we are not yet reconciled. I would have thought we are not forgiven unless we actually repent.

What, then do I make of Jesus' cry to forgive them for they know not what they do? Is this a particular instance.

With the forgiveness proclaimed by people who have been victims of abuse, I guess I am questioning whether this is true forgiveness. Not because they don't truly mean what they are saying, I know exactly what they mean by such a declaration.

It may be a willingness to forgive. It may be an attitude of love towards those who perpetrated the act, and it is costly love. It's not giving in to feelings of vengence. It's not bearing a grudge. There is an attitude of forgiveness, but can they actually be forgiven unless the perpetrators repent?

I'll see if I can chase up the book you recommend, maybe it's in the library.

Maybe I'm trying to split hairs in the way we use language.

Bron said...

I heard recently (from a sermon at church, I think) that true forgiveness requires repentance. Someone isn't really forgiven unless they acknowledge the wrong and repent. This was quite a provocative statement as so many people feel they can move on from a nasty situation by forgiving the other person, regardless of whether or not that person has asked for forgiveness. It really is an interesting question and something that I'm still to get my head around.

Ali said...

Hi Rachael,
I am just catching up on some blog reading now after a spell, but I actually found the chapter on forgiveness in 'Relationships - A Mess Worth Making' by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp very helpful (and simple) on just differentiating between forgiveness and reconciliation. Here, quickly, is a section. They look at Mark 11:25 and Luke 17:3 and say:

"Which one of these verses is right? They’re both right!

The verses are talking about two different aspects of forgiveness. Mark 11:25 is talking about forgiveness as a heart attitude before God. The context is worship. When I consider someone’s sin as I stand before the Lord, I am called to have an attitude of forgiveness toward the person who sinned against me. This is non-negotiable. I do not have the right to withhold forgiveness and harbour bitterness in my heart. Luke 17:3, on the other hand, is talking about forgiveness as a horizontal transaction between me and the offender. This is often referred to as reconciliation. The point Luke 17:3 makes is that, while I am to have an attitude of forgiveness before the Lord, I can only grant forgiveness to the other person if he repents and admits he has sinned against me. Even if he never does this, I am called to maintain an attitude of forgiveness toward the offender. The vertical aspect of forgiveness is unconditional, but the horizontal aspect depends on the offender admitting guilt and asking for forgiveness."

Rachael said...

Thanks Ali. That's really helpful. I go away and read the passages and have more of a think.

And Bron... it is quite a provovative statement... I was very hesitant putting up the post in the first place!

Glenyss said...

I think God's forgiveness is there, waiting for us, when we repent. We cannot experience it until we have repented.

I also think that our forgiveness should be there, waiting for those who have wronged us. Not just for their sake, but for ours. We suffer from harbouring the evil done to us and bitterness to those who have wronged us. If we have not already forgiven those who have wronged us, how could we be sure of being able to do so if they ask? It is not easy to forgive wrongs almost as soon as they happen. Sometimes we have to cool down first. Sometimes the offender wants/needs forgiveness before we are ready to forgive. Is it fair to make them wait for our forgiveness? Could withholding forgiveness be a tool for revenge?

I cannot see the difference between having an "attitude of forgiveness" and forgiving. I have either forgiven someone or I haven't. I haven't experienced anything in between, except apathy. Forgiving is something I need to do, regardless of the other person's attitude. It is not always easy.

Rachael said...

Thanks Mum. I'm beginning to wonder about the different between an attitude of forgiveness and someone being forgiven... I think I'm making more of it than there is. I'm also wondering whether its valid to compare our forgiveness with God's forgiveness: because there is not forgiveness with God unless there is repentence doesn't mean it is the same with our relationships with other people

Mike said...

hi - I know its late! but Mark baddeley's been putting up some excellent stuff on this on sola panel. worth a read (if you have a day or two, its long, like all his stuff, but well worth the time and effort).

Rachael said...

HI Mike,
Thanks! I noticed Mark's articles and have been putting them by because, as you say, they're a little difficult to digest in a moment. I'm looking forward to reading them thoroughly.