Holden Village Staff Experience August, 2003

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We can forgive people who do not apologize

If we wait until the person who wronged us apologizes before we forgive him, we fall victim to our rage and our wounds while we wait.  We need to understand that forgiveness happens within ourselves; it is not an interaction with another.  When we wait for an apology, we may be confusing forgiveness with reunion, or (in the worst case), we may be using others' apologies to obligate them to us.


Smedes gives five arguments against forgiving an unrepentant person and counters each one.


If a person who wrongs us does not repent, he doesn't deserve to be forgiven. 

Nobody deserves to be forgiven.  Forgiveness is only for people who don't deserve it.  Being sorry does not earn us the right to forgiveness.


Forgiving someone who does not repent is just too hard to do. 

Forgiving unrepentant people is a no-lose opportunity to start your own healing.


To forgive an unrepentant person is not fair to ourselves. 

Are we fair to ourselves by prolonging the bitterness and hate?  Are we being fair to ourselves when we let the other, the very person who wronged us, decide when we get to forgive?


To forgive an unrepentant person is dangerous; if he feels no sorrow for what he did, he is likely to do it again.

Forgiving is not tolerance.  We do not invite the person we forgive to get close enough to us to hurt us again. 


The Bible says that we have to repent before we can get forgiven.

Does this mean that we should not forgive anyone until he is sorry for what he did?  We cannot afford to wait for this before we begin healing ourselves.  The person who hurt us should not be the one to decide whether or when we should recover from the pain he brought us.


Keep in mind that there is a difference between forgiveness and reunion.  If a person who has wronged us wants to reestablish the relationship, he must come in sorrow and repentance.  We cannot expect to be forgiven without being sorry for the wrong we did.  But we should not demand sorrow for the wrong someone did to us.  Repentance does not earn the right to forgiveness; it only prepares us to receive the gift.