Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Does forgiveness require repentance?
Scot McKnight has posted about whether repentance is necessary for forgiveness. This is a very good, and very important question, both on a personal level (i.e. our forgiveness of others), as well as a theological level (i.e. God's forgiveness of us). As I see it, forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate things. It is possible (and I believe necessary) to forgive people even if they are not repentant, but if they are not repentant then reconciliation cannot happen. In that way, reconciliation goes beyond forgivness, though forgiveness is the necessary first step.

Likewise, I don’t think forgiveness and justice are mutually exclusive. I can forgive someone, and yet still work for justice and restitution as part of the process of reconciliation (which, IMO, should be the goal of justice in the first place - true justice is a reconciliation of relationship and the renewal of respect for the Imago Dei in both parties).

I believe in this distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation quite strongly, because if one’s forgiveness is dependent on the offender's repentance, then we will often remain captive to the pain and bitterness caused by other’s hurtful actions towards us. How can we ever be free from the weight of that if we always have to wait for the other person to repent? Sometimes that’s just never going to happen. Some people will never admit that they did anything wrong. Some people will never say “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

IMHO, the good news is that I can choose to forgive regardless of the other person’s attitude. I can choose to be free of the pain they have inflicted on me, and I don’t have to wait around for an apology that may never come before I can begin the process of healing.

I think it’s the same way with God. He forgives us regardless of our repentance, but reconciliation can’t happen until we choose to turn around and accept that forgiveness and live in a way that reflects justice. However, if God had to wait for us to repent before he could forgive, I think that would mean that our sin, our rebellion, is stronger than his grace and love; and I just don’t think that is the case. God forgives before we repent. As it says in Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."


posted by Mike Clawson at 2:58 PM | Permalink |


At 12/13/2006 01:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Mmm... though some who have been badly hurt say that they require repentance on the part of another party before they can forgive. I don't think we can require either repentance nor forgiveness from anyone else (especially when it involves a third party), but support those who struggle with strong emotions.

I guess I'd like to believe that all can forgive those who have showed no signs of repentance, yet it doesn't appear to necessarily be so. Or maybe some hurts just take a long time to heal and get over.


At 12/13/2006 11:31:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good point Joe. We can recommend forgiveness to people that have been hurt, but we can't demand it. I understand those who say that they just can't forgive, with or without repentance. However, I still encourage them to try and go through the long process of forgiveness for their own sakes. Choosing to forgive doesn't just free the other person from our wrath, it also frees ourselves. It is so very hard, but it is the only way that I know to really be free of such bitterness and pain.


At 11/07/2007 09:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

There is no Biblical precedent for forgiving without a repentant offender. Jesus didn't do it. The Pharisees accused Him of being a devil and He didn't say, "Oh, that's alright, I forgive you." Intead He said, "How will you avoid the damnation of hell?" In the original post you said that God forgives all, which is not true. He has PROVIDED forgiveness, it's available, but it is through our repentance (recognition of our need) that we receive it.


At 5/03/2008 11:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Carey - I'm new to this line of thinking and somewhat unsure of my beliefs in this area... but as I read your statement that "there is no Biblical precedent for forgiving without a repentant offender. Jesus didn't do it," I instantly recalled that Jesus in fact did just that during the crucifixion. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Jesus asked his Father to forgive those who crucified them, without them repenting (or even ceasing what they were doing). What are we to make of that? Were they forgiven? Or was Jesus' request turned down? There may be more theological problems with the latter than the former.