Can There Be Forgiveness Without Repentance? Part 2

Along with this claim that repentance is necessary to forgiveness, I am aware of the need for at least four caveats.

Second, what if the offender does not repent? For example, the other person refuses to acknowledge that she has wronged us, and she goes further to blame us for what she did—as if we should be apologizing to her instead of the other way around! As noted above, we cannot pursue a vulnerable, trusting relationship with someone who hardens against us in this way. If they have so little concern for how they have damaged us, then the idea of relationship with them will likely be just a pretense. The offender who is unconcerned for her violation against us does not want to really love us. We cannot continue to entrust ourselves to her unless she repents.

 

In Part 1, I observed that Christian forgiveness includes several conditions leading to reconciliation of a relationship that was violated by one person sinning against another. Jesus’ commands that the person wronged must “show him his fault” (Matt. 18:15) as the first condition, to be followed by his repentance, and then we may respond by forgiving him. Common Christian talk about forgiveness tends not to include the necessity of repentance; consequently, many Christians attempt forgiveness and yet fail to live in it. Along with this claim that repentance is necessary to forgiveness, I am aware of the need for at least four caveats.

How Not to Do It

First, there is a wrong way to do the pre-condition of “rebuke him” by attacking someone and demanding their repentance. Our goal is to “win your brother” in reconciliation, not to prosecute him. In Christian relationships, we are collaborating with God, so we should expect the Holy Spirit to motivate repentance even as we need his power to motivate our real forgiveness in response. As the one wronged, our responsibility is to be authentic and vulnerable to tell what we have endured from the other. This confrontation likely requires much prayer as a pre-condition.

Sometimes, Others Do Not Apologize

Second, what if the offender does not repent? For example, the other person refuses to acknowledge that she has wronged us, and she goes further to blame us for what she did—as if we should be apologizing to her instead of the other way around! As noted above, we cannot pursue a vulnerable, trusting relationship with someone who hardens against us in this way. If they have so little concern for how they have damaged us, then the idea of relationship with them will likely be just a pretense. The offender who is unconcerned for her violation against us does not want to really love us. We cannot continue to entrust ourselves to her unless she repents.

Without the other person’s repentance, our problem remains of not being able to forgive them. We continue to bear the injury when they will not take responsibility, and so we will suffer additionally the bitterness of having been wronged. This is the bitterness of injustice. Instead of pretending to forgive them at a distance and without their repentance, I suggest that we recourse to the idea of pardoning them. The pardon allows us to set aside the injury and our bitterness into God’s hands. The pardon does not advance relationship with them, since reconciliation cannot occur without forgiveness, which depends on repentance (which sometimes depends on our part to “show him his fault”). Romans 12:14-21 urges Christians, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (NASB). We cannot make others to be at peace with us, but we can work for their repentance and refrain from taking revenge.

Against the reflex of taking revenge, Paul warns us not to, and then follows this with the assurance that God “will repay” the wrongs done to us (Rom. 12:19). As a matter of justice, we sometimes hold on to bitterness subconsciously as a desire to maintain justice, but this only hurts us. Instead of revenge and bitterness, and when the possibility of forgiveness is out of our hands because of the offender’s refusal to repent, we have the option of pardoning the wrong done through handing it off to God’s justice for him to deal with as he thinks best. Practically, I have found this to work by unburdening myself to God. “I don’t want to carry this anymore, God. I give it into Your hands.” Pardon is the less desirable option than forgiveness (leading to reconciliation), but it is the better option than bitterness or revenge.

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