Friday, March 19, 2010

Forgiveness When There is No Apology

In a recent article I shared about forgiveness and reconiliation. Here I wanted to share some different views on the tough question of forgiving when there is no apology which came up in our recent Life's Healing Choices reading and small group discussion.

In "Life's Healing Choices" Rick Warren and John Baker stress the importance of unconditional forgiveness. Forgiving others relieves resentment and prevents us from holding a grudge (resentment and bitterness are not good things to hold onto, Job 5,18,36; Eph 4:31). They point out that failure to forgive is ususally a sign they don't feel forgiven themselves. As a result, they suggest forgiving another is needed even when there is not an apology.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas in "The Five Languages of Apology" takes a different view. They suggest that forgiveness without apology is asking Christians to do what even God does not do. Forgiveness in scripture is based on confession, and reconciliation on repentance. Forgiving without an apology hurts chances for reconciliation, and they echo Bonhoeffer (martyred by Nazis) in saying this reflects a 'cheap' form of grace.

In our small group Mary M. shared some excellent thoughts about these two views...

"I do agree that apology AND forgiveness, together, is an outcome that we should stive for: both apologizing ourselves when we realize we are in the wrong, and forgiving when we have been wronged. I see the tremendous power for good of the two together, allowing for reconciliation. Reconciliation is indeed based on repentence.
   But, we have no control whatsoever over the actions of the other person.  We can only do OUR OWN apologizing, OUR OWN forgiving. I also think that there is great value in forgiveness WITHOUT reconciliation when someone is in a pattern of unrepented sin.... There are many examples in history of forgiving without or before an apology. I think of Jim Elliott's wife going back to the Waodani people who had murdered her husband, for another example, or Betsie Ten Boom planning for a place/program for healing for both concentration-camp victims and concentration-camp prison guards, even while she herself was still dying in a concentration camp (her vision became a reality through the work of many, including her sister Corrie who survived).
   It seems to me this is how it works.  We see God forgiving first - forgiving withOUT apology and withOUT real repentence or amendment of behavior (at first) -- He makes His forgiveness freely available at the tremendous cost of the suffering and death of His son. (I might even go so far as to claim that the power to repent and to amend behavior COMES FROM God's forgiveness of us - that is the only energy source powerful enough to effect such a change.) We then strive to do this holy and supernatural thing that we see our Lord doing - and although it is impossible to do in our own strength, He helps us, and with His help we find we are able. And the results are that surprising, amazing chain reaction that constitutes personal and social/global revival. This glorifies God and brings joy to many. The standard is radical holiness: 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.' - Jesus (Luke 6:27-28)"

In another small group Rick B. shares:
I don't know about the Luke 17:3 passage but I think the I John 1:9 passage is putting the emphasis on the faithfulness of God. God's forgiveness is available and offered to us but it isn't appropriated until we confess our sins and repent. When we confess our sins, God is faithful and will not withhold the forgiveness that He has offered through Jesus Christ. We don't repent of our sins and then God decides if He will forgive us or not. I still believe that according to Romans 12:17-21, Ephesians 4:31-32, and Colossians 3:13 we are to let go of our grudges, trust God to deal with those who hurt us, and forgive whatever grievances there are. This does not negate the offender's need to take responsibility and repent of their sin. It's just not a condition for my forgiveness. It is a condition for them to apply my forgiveness to their lives. My forgiveness won't mean anything to them until they acknowledge their wrongdoing and repent of it. I Peter 2:21-24 is another passage to consider.
Pastor Chuck had some good practical points on discussing forgiveness with others, especially with those for whom this is a struggle. Is this person a Christian who has truly experienced God's forgiveness? Are they new in their walk with Christ, or are they approach biblical commands from a position of spiritual maturity? What is their own understanding and experience of God's forgiveness? If it's a matter of no apology, have they gotten to the point of being at least willing to forgive if asked? Is there sufficient time and support available for this person to make a tough and painful decision?

My own conclusion? Here's where I land on whether it is a biblical command to forgive unconditional and/or a good idea from a psychological perspective:
  • Willingness to forgive is a universal command for Christians
  • Ridding ourselves of bitterness is an unqualified command as well
  • Forgiving others is a super way to do this and can bring healing
  • Apologizing is not required for true forgiveness, but apologizing and repenting are necessary for reconciliation - for a relationship to begin the process of restoration.
  • Forgiving is both an event (a decision) and also a process - a healing and restorative process which takes time, and which benefits from prayer and support
  • Releasing the pain to God and leaning on him for healing the hurt, is another good idea, especially in cases where reconciliation is no longer an option (maybe the offender has passed away)
  • Radical forgiveness towards someone who has hurt you very badly demonstrates God's love and willingness to forgiveness in a powerful way
  • If you're helping someone else to deal with this, be sure they understand how God has (or wants to) forgive them, show patience and understanding as this can be a hard and lengthy process. The last thing the hurt person needs is (more) guilt!


Cathy Kennedy said...

I was searching the Internet today for such an article or better an understanding of how to best explain to our daughter the need for an apology. I plan to share your post with her.

God's blessings to you!
~Cathy Kennedy, Children's Author
The Tale of Ole Green Eyes

TheDarkArse said...

Forgiveness without an apology is something God doesn't do? So Jesus saying "forgive them father for they know not what they do" came after an apology?

No, I'm sorry. Teaching that an apology is required for forgiveness is tantamount to saying it is by works not by faith through grace. An apology is a work. God forgives who he wills, and he HAS forgiven those who have not apologized as is shown in Luke 23.

Leslie Lim said...

Thank you for the words of support on the post. I appreciate it.
Keep up the great work & happy blogging!