Monday, July 8, 2013

Forgiveness is free.....or is it?

So we have my brother-in-law and sister-in-law visiting at the moment.  We had an interesting debate this afternoon about forgiveness.  At the Bible college they attend, one of their lecturers is of the opinion that you cannot forgive someone who has not asked for forgiveness.  Forgiveness, the argument goes, is a relational contract.  It is something that involves two people.  You can't just "forgive" someone who has not acknowledged their wrong and or is not ready to accept your forgiveness.

So can you forgive someone who doesn't ask for your forgiveness?  Should that kind of action be known by another term such as "letting go"?  Or can you be gracious to the most undeserving, even if they don't or can't acknowledge their wrong?  What do you think?


Joan Milne said...

Ah a good topic! One I would like to respond to when I find out what kind of account I need!

Deb said...

You seemed to have successfully commented so do respond away! I would love to know what you think. We debated it for about an hour and still had no consensus.

Joan Milne said...

Seems I have an account so these are my thoughts for what they are worth:
This is a question I have often debated with myself. Christ forgives us freely but only on the basis of our repentance. Granted he also gives us repentance. But the Scriptures are clear that without repentance there is no forgiveness of sins.
To me it seems that is the standard. If we give forgiveness to those who have not repented of the wrong they have done then we are setting ourselves above Christ.
However, if no repentance is forthcoming, there is the danger of bitterness or an unforgiving spirit. So I see the need to be in a state of readiness to forgive. Or, as I like to say, to hold forgiveness in our hearts. Otherwise we are the ones who suffer.
There are also instances where we may have been wronged by a parent who is now dead. Repentance and forgiveness are no longer options but If we cannot let that go then we remain the victim.
It is also an observable ‘Australian-way’ to wrong a fellow Christian then to go on as if nothing has happened – that is the most difficult to deal with I find. The perpetrator and the victim both need the issue dealt with but wrong has not been acknowledged and forgiveness not asked for. That leaves the wronged in a state of mistrust and confusion especially if it is not appropriate to challenge the person. But again, with God’s help, we need to get our hearts ready to forgive should the opportunity arise. For me it is getting to that stage of openness in my heart that brings healing.

Deb said...

Yep, that's the opinion of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law too. I am sympathetic to the argument that wrongs against one another need to be dealt with rather than swept under the carpet by telling the other party "just to forgive". I think that's especially true in the context of Christian folk. My questions came with the following situations: what does one do when the other person refuses to acknowledge their sin or is incapable of doing so (due to death, distance or maybe even a mindset that is unable to see that they have done anything wrong)? Do we then say forgiveness is impossible in those circumstances? I am inclined to think there should be some kind of forgiveness or letting go in those circumstances and thus I like your phrase "hold forgiveness in our hearts". We've done our part, even if the other party has not received forgiveness. I am also sympathetic to the idea that we don't do confrontation and church discipline well in the Australian context. The M.O. seems to be that we just avoid each other for as long as it takes for us to be able to stand in the same room and be polite and then we consider the matter dealt with. I can't see that as Biblical.
I am still chewing over verses such as "turn the other cheek" - clearly there is no repentance implied there as the victim seems to be expecting more pain to come. Perhaps this couldn't be classed as an instance of "forgiveness" however. But what is it then when we walk the second mile and turn the other cheek?

Sarah said...

Joan has said what I was going to say...and said it much better than I ever could. :)

I'm of the same view and believe forgiveness and turning the other cheek/loving enemies are different things. There's a great book called 'Unpacking Forgiveness' which explores this issue and it's one of the best Christian books I've ever read. I reviewed it last year

Deb said...

Yes, thanks Sarah. My sister-in-law mentioned you'd read that book so I did go back and look at your review.

I'm curious to hear how you think it might relate in the parent-child relationship. That is, I think parents do a lot of forgiving for things that often the child never asks for forgiveness for. I don't mean (I certainly don't mean!) that we should never confront our kids on their wrongs and seek to see them ask for forgiveness and receive it. But you'll never pick your kids up on all the wrongs they do and a lot of the time you correct them and yet they don't seek forgiveness. And a lot of the time, you overlook some wrongs out of grace too. How does that kind of forgiveness fit in? Or maybe it shouldn't be called "forgiveness" but something else?

Or maybe I need to stop asking questions and read the book! :)

Sarah said...

Yeah, good question...I think that's called overlooking minor offences and is different. If I confronted people on every little thing they did that annoyed me, I'd be confronting some people all day! Then I'd be in the wrong for having such a critical and self-righteous attitude. The Proverbs have a number of verses about there being wisdom in overlooking minor offences.

I was just reading a devotional on the weekend which discussed this very issue. God's good timing, hey. I posted it here. :)

Yep, definitely read Unpacking Forgiveness! :)

Jean Williams said...

Will post an answer (written by a friend) on my blog soon... Totally on the side of those who say you can, and should, FORGIVE the unrepentant (or we'd have some very complicated family relationships!) - i.e. not harbour bitterness, continue to serve in love etc... . But I do acknowledge that reconciliation of the relationship is not always possible. So sometimes it will look like "forgive but not be reconciled" - e.g. if the other person is unwilling, or if there is danger to someone involved. Still, you can continue to seek the person's good.

Deb said...

Oh, good! I'll be looking out for that post. I'd be keen to hear your input on this one. I am swayed by the arguments above but I still feel like that if I am commanded to forgive others then that command shouldn't be dependent on their actions first. Anyway, I'll wait and see!

Suzy Vines said...

For what it's worth, I believe forgiveness is a choice one makes. It's an active choice to no longer dwell on the past wrongs of another, a choice to not harbor bitterness and anger towards the other person wether they have asked for it or not (as others have said that bitterness is even more harmful to oneself). It's s choice to love the other person, pray for the other person. It maybe also includes a willingness to agree to disagree to disagree and move on in peace. Does not the death of Jesus on the cross bring us complete forgiveness and a new relationship with our maker if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouth... or is that just too simplicities, is that yes we have God's forgiveness through Jesus work on the cross, but we can't have a restored relationship with him unless we continuously repent of my sin. Now, do come in repentance to God for my sin everyday, but if I was relying on my daily repentance in order to have a peaceful, reconciled relationship with my God, than I have no hope, then I'm living back in the Old Testament times where the only way to approach God was to provide a perfect sacrifice again and again and again ... isn't Jesus my once and for all perfect sacrifice?

Deb said...

I see what you are saying. I think if we decide that a certain set of "conditions" must be fulfilled before we forgive someone we are heading into dangerous territory. Especially if the person is wanting to be forgiven but we feel that they haven't acknowledged their sin in the way we want them to. Then it becomes a case of "I can't forgive you yet because you haven't crossed this line." That doesn't seem right to me.

Deb said...

I don't know if I expressed the above clearly. What I mean is that if we say that forgiveness requires repentance then that's got to be with the heart attitude that we do actually want to forgive them. I think there's a danger that we can use the fact that they haven't "repented" or "asked for forgiveness properly" as an excuse to continue to harbour our anger and not give them forgiveness. Putting conditions on forgiveness then becomes a way for us to avoid having to forgive. And in many cases (as mentioned above in families or when the person in the wrong is not able to repent as is the case in death) forgiveness just needs to happen if we are going to be free from the wrong.

I think the other thing is that God does forgive us when we repent. However, what about the fact that we stand in a fundamentally different relationship to other people who wrong us than God does to us? That is, God would be totally just in not forgiving us. As the One who does not sin, who is always right, our wrongs against him are totally wrong. However, as sinful creatures ourselves, when we forgive others we don't do so from a position of holiness. We too are fallen creatures. Because we have been forgiven so much and so freely, we ought to overflow with grace to others knowing that we ourselves stand in need of forgiveness.

Chris Brauns said...

I'll repeat a comment here I made on the other thread.

Hi Jean. This is a topic I have written about extensively including in Unpacking Forgiveness.

Christians ought always to offer forgiveness. But forgiveness is not complete until the other party accepts, just as one is not forgiven by God apart from receiving the gift.

As I have written, I do not think Jesus was issuing forgiveness on the Cross. See .

Notice that many respected theologians believe in conditional forgiveness,

Finally, automatic forgiveness creates many problems!