What does it mean to forgive? What is forgiveness? In Christianity we are told to "forgive", but what does that mean? We are also told that if we do something wrong to someone, then we should go ask for forgiveness. But in truth, when a person is asking for forgiveness,what are they asking for? Let me make it simple. How would you ask for forgiveness WITHOUT using the word "forgive". Let me give it a try. Would this be an equivelant of asking for forgiveness, "Please pretend like I didn't do anything wrong, pretend like I didn't hurt you, and don't hold any illwill towards me. Treat me as though I had never done anything wrong to you. AND if you don't "forgive" me, YOU will be the unspiritual person, you will be the one who is wrong."

If we were to say those words to a person we have wronged, how utterly repulsive and despictable that would be. To heap all that garbage on someone we have already injured. To ask them to put aside all their feelings of anger and hurt towards us would be unthinkable.

Here is one problem with the world's (or Christianity's) view of forgiveness. It does nothing to change the offender. If anything, all "forgiveness" (in the typical sense) does is to set the offender free from the consequences of his behavior.

I propose that we look at the process of forgiveness. There are two parts of forgiveness:

Part One is to set the offender free from the power of sin in his life. (Only God can do this, but the offender can do his part.) Truly forgiving is taking away the offender's desire to sin, which includes putting away his pride by showing who and what he really is. This involves confession (closely examining oneself and confessing ones deepest darkest fears and sins.) It involves getting a trusted mature friend or a good counselor to help him examine his immature and hurtful thinking patterns and immature behaviors. This is a process that can take months or years. It involves a complete transformation of the offender  so that he no long is an offender. It involves the offender making restitution, as much as in his power, to those whom he had harmed. In doing so, he should have no expectations from the people he has harmed. he should in no way ever ask for forgiveness of those whom he has injured. To ask for forgiveness would be to injure them again. Asking for forgiveness is often an attempt by the offender to escape the consequences of his actions. Instead the offender should repent (permanently change the way that he thinks and behaves. This is a long process, but over a period of time the changes slowly begin to  take shape as the offender develops new thinking pattern, new habits, and new behaviors.

The Second Part of forgiveness involves the injured party letting go of the anger and ill will that she has against the offender. There are two paths to being able to truly forgive another.

  • One path often naturally follows Part One, that of the offender becoming a new person. As the injured party sees the offender acting responsibily over a long period of time the anger can slowly melt away. This can take many months or years. Sometimes some people are not ready to let go of the anger or illwill that they feel against the offender. For some people it takes time, even a lot of time. We should not pressure them to forgive.
  • The other path involves the injured party making a decision to forgive (not hold illwill towards) the offender. This person realizes that holding anger or bitterness towards someone is harmful to oneself, so she lets it go.
  • This does not mean that she should not hold the offender accountable for his actions. Instead, true forgiveness often involves holding the offender accountable while at the same time letting go of the anger and bitterness. As has been said by someone else"“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." We let go of the anger and bitterness towards our offenders because holding onto them damages us. Holding onto anger and bitterness towards another turns us into the very type of person that we abhor. Even as we struggle to let go of our rage, we can still call the police or other authorities to report the crime that was committed against us. If the offender escapes consequences, then he is left in the power of his offending behavior. Going the consequences of his behavior is part of the path of setting him free from his bondage, which causes him to hurt people.

Some people are not at a place where they can just instantly let go of their anger and truly forgive someone who has hurt them deeply. Don't try to coerse them into "forgiving" someone before they are ready because you would injure them again. Their anger at what the offender did is a very natural feeling.

Other people are deeply offended at the idea of a horrendous murderer or someone who has caused great harm just being let off scott free. Their sense of justice cries out against someone who has hurt many others should escape being punished severely. Part of the reason they may feel this way is that they don't believe people should be able to escape punishment and they don't believe that people can truly change.

The Nature of the Offense

When we look at the topic forgiveness, we also need to look at the the nature of the harm or offense.

The Injury or Offense

Was the offense a one time event that was out of character for the offender. Is the offender normally a responsible virtuous person who made a mistake? Did he try his best to repair or rectify the damage or mistake?

Or was the offense made by an offender who has a habit and a history of habitually hurting people and not doing anything to repair or replace what was damaged? Does he typically get angry whenever confronted about his behavior?

Asking Forgiveness

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When I was in counseling, my counselor told us clients not to ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness victimizes the victim again.

We who have offended or injured someone want to be forgiven of things that we have done. We don't  want to have to experience the consequences of our behavior. However, God sends the consequences of our behavior upon us to set us free from our offending behavior. How often, when we have sinned, and then "ask for forgiveness" are we "offended" and sometimes "outraged" becaue the offended party didn't forgive us.

One of the hardest things for us to do is to look deep within, to look beyond the "sinful act" that we did and to see our ingrained pattern of offending people. That offending behavior and thinking pattern is called sin.

We may try to comfort ourselves by saying "God loves me just as I am", but in reality, God loves us in spite of who we are. But, even more, God lovesus so much that he wants to change us from the inside out so that we might become like his own son.

We want the offended party to just forgive us because we said that we are sorry and have asked "plese forgive me." However, true forgiveness (from the offended party) is based upon that person "seeing and experiencing" (over a long period of time) a permanent change in behavior from the offender. True forgiveness doesn't have to be asked for. (Does it really say any place in the bible to "ask" for forgiveness? But, rather, true forgiveness is a natural bi-product of an ongoing change of behavior of the offender. Forgiveness doesn't have to be requested, but it is naturally given. This is a process that can take years.

Modern day forgiveness ("ask for forgiveness and "poof!" "No consequences.") doesn't work, there are no lasting results.

Any parent who has successfully raised responsible children knows that a child must consistantly experience the consequences of his behavior in order to have a permanent change in behavior.

Will You Forgive me?

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When forgiveness is requested, the focus isn't on where it needs to be. When there is an ongoing problem, forgiveness is not the issue. Repairing of the damages and a change of behavior by the offender is what is needed. When there is a genuine change, then forgiveness is often a natural result of the changed behavior. But that often takes time (sometimes months and years). The longer the offense has been ongoing, and the greater the offence, the longer time that is needed for true forgiveness to occur, if it ever happens.

Christ tells us to forive. But does he ever tell us to ask for forgiveness? I can think of no place where christs or the apostles ever told the offending party to ask for forgiveness. Now in the case of Onesimus, Paul did make a request on the behalf of a runaway slave to his master. But the slave did not ask for forgiveness himself. Also, it appears that Onesimus went through a change and ...

You Can't Ask For True Forgiveness.

True forgiveness is something that only comes about over a period of time, if the right factors are involved. It involves a true and lasting change in the life of the offender AND also involves the offended party seeing the changes over a long period of time and realizing that the changes are real.

All to often the offender goes to the person he offended and asks, "Please forgive me." Now Stop! When an offender asks for forgiveness, what is he asking for? If he were to ask for forgiveness without using that word, what would he ask? Perhaps something like this. "Please pretend like I never hurt you. Put it out of your mind and treat me like you did before. Let's put the relationship back to what it was like before." Do you see what I see? This form of asking for forgiveness requires nothing of the offender. The whole thing is put on the back of the offended party. Then, when you add the supposed "Christian duty" to forgive someone, things get even more tricky. The offended party may try to forgive the other person, but finds that her forgiveness often isn't real. It's not real because its not true forgiveness the .... of forgiveness aren't present. The offender has not done anything to genuinely make changes in his life so that he no longer offends people. There has not been sufficient time (often it requires many years) for the offender to get well established in his (presumed) new behaviors and thinking patterns.

In reality, when an someone offends another person the relationship is permanently changed. It can never be what it was before. However a new relationship can be built based upon truth.

You Can't Rush Forgiveness

It takes however long it takes, if it comes at all. The length of time that it takes to offended party to forgive may vary from person to person. The more devasting the offense the longer it may take the offended party to forgive, if she is ever able to forgive.

If you are the offender, put aside all thoughts of desiring to be forgiven. These thoughts are all self-serving, which is what caused you to hurt her/him in the first place. As long as you are wanting to be forgiven you will be putting on a show, that isn't real, to impress the offended person. Instead, your thoughts need to be turned towards living a permanent honorable and virtuous life. Try to repair or fix everything that you have done wrong. In addition, live you life in a way that is honorable, truthful, and noble. Do your best in all situations. Treat everyone honestly, kindly, and compassionately. Remember, you won't do it perfectly. You may often fail. That is of no matter. Every time you fail at living honorably, get back up and try again, and again, and again. NEVER give up. With time you will get better at living virtuously.

When You Have Harmed Someone, Don't Ask For Forgiveness

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When you apologize, you should say "I am wrong. I did this (clearly explain what you did) I was at fault."  When I was going to Overeaters Anonymous we used the Big Book of the AA. One big lesson that I learned that in any argument both parties were to confess or apologize for what they personally had done wrong. They were not to think about what the other person had done wrong,

Think about asking for forgiveness. Without using the word "forgive", how would you ask to be forgiven. When you are asking for forgiveness, what are you really asking for? It seems to me that when a persons asks for forgiveness, he is really asking, "Please pretend like I never hurt you. Don't hold any ill feelings towards me and treat me well. The purpose is so that I won't feel condemned by you and so that I can feel good about myself again."

In this prideful society it is so common to think only of oneself and what "I" want. Asking for forgiveness is a self-centered request. It is an act of asking to not be held accountable for one's wrongful actions. When you ask for forgiveness you are asking something from the offended party that she may not be ready to do.

True forgiveness follows a change in behavior of the offender that is demonstrated and proven over a long period of time. It may take months or years. True forgiveness is not an instant action.

If you have harmed someone, as much as you are able, repair the harm that you causes: repay what was taken, replace what was lost, repair what was damaged. If it will take a long time do accomplish, do it anyway. Do this with no expectation for applause. This is merely your duty and should be done because it is the right thing to do.

Jesus said to forgive. He did NOT say to ASK for forgiveness.

It doesn't matter who is right or wrong. It is your responsibility for fix the Disturbance. "Realizing that a disturbance is your responsibility is a giant step towards emotional maturity1." "Take full responsibility for the offense, without sharing the blame with anyone else, and without presenting mitigating circumstances"2

The Art of Confessing or Apologizing

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Whenever we hurt or affend another, it is so easy to not want to be seen as the guilty party. We may say something like, "I'm sorry for hurting you, BUT, I didn't hit you that hard OR, the offense that I did to you wasn't that bad. YOU are making a big do about nothing." Often this is subtle attempt to get the blame off of us and to transfer at least part of the blame to the other party.
As a parent, one thing that I am learning, is when I apologize, I only focus on what I did that was wrong. Even if the other party was (in my mind) as much or more to blame than myself, I only confess to what I did, without mentioning anything at all about what I think that the other person did.

An apology or a confession that says or implies, even to the smallest degree, that someone else is partly or largely to blame is a hollow confession. It is our subtle attempt to get the focus off of us and onto the other party.

Our confession is about our own inner cleansing. It is about taking full responsibility for our own behavior. It is also deeply connected with our practice of humility.

If someone else has offended us, that should be dealt with at a different time. Whenever someone has offended or hurt us, we need to deal with it promptly so that their offence doesn't get intertwined with our own behavior later on.


Defusing Pride

Restoring Relationships

Self Examination

Any time that we even remotely involved in or associated with an argument or disagreement, we need to step aside and examine our own thoughts, motives and actions. For example, recently my two children were involved in fight of sorts. I went out to take care of it. After letting them both tell me both sides, I was overly zealous to correct the one I thought was at greater fault. The child I was correcting and I both were at odds with each other. It was only after I had stepped away from it and went for a walk that I realized that I was at fault for the way I had handled the child. I could have made an excuse that the child was really at fault. But I knew that I had to set the example. I took time to examine what I had done wrong. Then, when I got back home, I told the child, "My behavior was wrong. I was too harsh and judgemental when I spoke to you earlier...." After I had finished apologizing, my child also apologized to me as well. I'd had that happen a number of times. It seems that I have to be the one to apologize first, then the other person will often also apologize also.

Looking past the Offense

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Tonight my son was playing with our new 2 1/2 month old puppy. I think that my son may have played a little rough with the puppy because the puppy either bit or clawed my 12 year old son. I didn't see it happen, but my son came and showed me the scratch, which was about 3 or 4 inches long, on his arm.

As I thought back about this incident it would be very easy to see the dog as being an offender (biting or clawing, etc.) and to begin to treat the dog as a bad dog. This would become a kind of self-fullfilling prophecy. When you treat an animal, or even a person, as a bad personality, then it could easily drive it into being that kind of person/animal. This is where the power of forgiveness comes into play.

Forgiveness is not looking at the "offender" as evil, or a sinner, or as an offender. But it is looking past the offence to see the person or animal as a person of value. It is looking at the person as who they will become. It is also treating it with respect and dignity, honoring the person and helping him to become who they were meant to be.

Ongoing Forgiveness

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Throughout the course  of each day their are countless... that occur that can build resentment and bitterness. The process of forgiveness is monitoring and being constantly aware of our thinking. As each event happens that triggers a pain or ... response, then we consciously let it go. Whenever we feel hurt and want to withdraw, we instead reach out in kindness. With each .... we disarm it by proactively acting contrary to our emotions. We think kind thoughts and proactively do some acts of kindness to those who hurt us. To be .... much of the pain we receive comes from our own minds. Much of the hurt we receive from others is of our own imaginations.

It is so easy to build up tiny resentments which can damage relationships. To disarm the resentment we continually let go of our "rights" to be treated as we imagine. It is a matter of "dying to self" moment by moment of each day.

Forgiving others is not a one-time act, but an ongoing process. It is a way of continually acting with humility, not expecting to be the center of everyone's universe.

 A lot of the pain that we experience is because of our incorrect focus. We think of ourselves and of our "rights" of what others "should" do for us or how they "should" act towards us. Then we are constantly dissappointed or angered because we perceive that others are not meeting our needs.

Where is our attention focused? Is it focused on what I "should" be receiving, or on how I can serve others?

We've Been Forgiven

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Tell about the cell phone

We've already been forgiven. The reason that we still live as captives to sin and keep on sinning is that we don't know that we've been forgiven. In addition, we don't understand or don't realize what forgiveness means. It means that we have been set free from the power of sin. But it also means that we have to walk in that freedom. Every person is different, the path to experiencing that freedom may be different for each person.