Wednesday, July 31, 2013

should we forgive the unrepentant?

A few weeks ago Deb asked, Can you forgive someone who doesn't ask for your forgiveness?

In other words, "Should we forgive the unrepentant?"

I've always suspected the answer is "yes", even though lots of people I respect answer "no". For a start, I can't imagine how family relationships would work otherwise. I'm not going to wait around for my child, or husband, to say sorry before I get on with forgiving and loving them. I can't defend this view with any depth, and I don't have time to explore it; it's just a hunch.

So instead of doing the work myself, here's a very excellent answer from a friend. Our pastor John posted this on our church's Facebook page:
Here are the wise words of Gordon Cheng regarding this topic:

"I think we can forgive without repentance on the part of the other person.

I don't believe that Jesus' words on the cross, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do', were conditional on the repentance of his hearers.

Of course, their mocking continued, and for some, that state of mind continued until their death, temporal and eternal. There is an unforgivable sin.

That sin, as I paraphrase it, is the sin of not repenting.

But what is ruined, for eternity, is reconciliation.

The word of forgiveness is not taken back.

To use a weak analogy, you've dumped a bag of gold that you couldn't afford to part with on the doorstep of your worst enemy.

Now, no driving past the house to see if the bag is still sitting there, unless you dropped past to add more gold to the pile.

(In which case, add the gold and leave, and only return to keep adding!)"

To which [my pastor John] asked: "So if I understand you correctly forgiveness is offered but without acceptance there is no reconciliation?"

And Gordo replied: "yep, no reconciliation without acceptance of forgiveness.

These things can be partial and implied, of course.

So Joe the sinner might smile sheepishly and shake my hand effusively, having previously refused to apologize.

What should I do then?

I think I should, as far as it lies in my power, accept what is offered.

And more, if I can.

or if God so empowers me to do."

Here's a video by Phillip Jensen where he answers the question:


Ruth Chapman said...

Hello Jean, Thank you for this post. I have not previously, properly understood what the unforgivable sin is and also struggled to know how to forgive someone who rejects the idea of the need for forgiveness.

Chris said...

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!

Deb said...

Thanks for this Jean! I am still chewing it over. I must admit I'm leaning more to the Phillip Jensen view. I think I'll have to write another blog post to make myself think through it all over again. The bit I don't get is the idea of "reconciliation". What does it mean to be reconciled? If it doesn't mean forgiveness? Are there, if you like, two levels of forgiveness? Ahghgh! Confused.

Jean said...

Thanks, Chris. I'm aware many respected theologians hold the view you defend (as well as the opposing view).

I haven't done enough theological work on it to present my own perspective - nor am I likely to at this stage - so I do thank you for the links you provided.

I'm happy with what you say - "Christians always ought to offer forgiveness", and that there's a sense in which it's not complete till accepted. That doesn't sound too different to me from saying "forgiven, but not reconciled".

Jean said...

Hi Deb,

I think forgiveness-without-reconciliation means that you go on loving the other person as you are able, even though the relationship may stay broken. Like Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you".

I guess Phillip is right: it depends partly on how we define the word "forgiveness". It can have a big range of meanings, and it changes in different contexts.

So if my son has a tantrum, but refuses to say sorry (though I would definitely work towards this goal!) I would forgive him, and our relationship would be reconciled.

Or if a husband says something to his wife that she finds hurtful, but he doesn't see his fault, she will still forgive him and move on and keep loving him, and the relationship will be reconciled.

But this is different from a relationship where there's abuse or adultery. If the other person was unrepentant and unchanged, you'd leave the relationship, wouldn't you?

But I hope you wouldn't continue to hold resentment in your heart. I hope you'd continue to offer love to them as you are able. Do we call this "forgiveness"? I (tentatively) think so, but I can understand that some don't.


Deb said...

Yep. Yep. And yep. You put that very well.