Saturday, January 26, 2008

A New Thought on Forgiveness

New to me, anyway. Last night I was pondering that old question: Are Christians obligated to forgive people who have wronged them but are unrepentant and have not sought forgiveness?

You probably know some of the arguments on both sides. On the one hand, Jesus asked the Father to forgive his murderers when they were unrepentant. Therefore, we have to follow Jesus' example and do so as well. On the other hand, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive our debtors, but God does not forgive us unless we do repent. Jesus' murderers were not cleansed of their sin unless they repented of it and sought forgiveness.

But here's a pretty simple argument on the "yes" side: Suppose that I wrong somebody, but I can't see that I have wronged him. Suppose that I listen to the complaint but just can't agree that I did wrong. But suppose I'm evaluating wrongly, and I did do wrong. Do I want the other fellow to forgive me even though I don't ask for it? You bet. Of course I do. So the Golden Rule says that I have to do the same for others.


William Luse said...

Damn. This is unwelcome news.

Lydia McGrew said...


Not my favorite conclusion to come to, either. Not, I might add, that this has any relevance to what the civil authority should do in defense and retribution for the innocent. This is about personal forgiveness.

William Luse said...

Didn't Christ say, "Love your enemies, and do good to those who persecute you...but only after they've apologized?"

Lydia McGrew said...

Yeah, I know. It was an obvious sort of thing. I shouldn't have needed more arguments. I think the temptation to think that it isn't obvious comes from the fact that when a friendship is messed up or broken up, forgiveness doesn't actually mean that everything just goes back to where it was before. That's not the way human nature works, on either side. The temptation is to take the sheer fact of feelings of discomfort, distance, and absence of communication as an excuse for saying, "So I guess I really haven't forgiven so-and-so, and I can't make myself feel towards him as I did before, so I can't forgive him, so, oh, well, might as well not bother." And then to think up elaborate excuses like the argument I gave about God and being cleansed from sin, for example. All of which is baloney. It's perfectly possible to forgive someone while still feeling uncomfortable about hanging around with him.