Imagine you have extreme debt. If your loan agency declares, “All your debt is paid,” who benefits from this – you or the loan agency? So it is with forgiveness – the “debtor” needs it more than the “debt” forgiver. When you forgive, in effect you’re vowing that all debts are cleared.
The Christian tradition understands forgiveness as a promise. When God forgives, he promises to pay attention to only what Jesus did perfectly, not what his enemies have done imperfectly.
Modeling this example, author Ken Sande shares the four promises of forgiveness:
•I won’t dwell on this incident.
•I won’t bring up this incident again and use it against you.
•I won’t talk to others about this incident.
•I won’t let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Forgiveness as a promise, rather than passive pardon, can change lives.
But what if your offender’s sincerity is questionable? What if he or she is not sorry? Can you forgive him or her?
The answer from scripture is both yes and no. First, consider this: God doesn’t need to forgive anyone. Thankfully, he’s unlike anyone or anything we’ve ever encountered: He actually wants to forgive rebellious people like us. There’s no doubting the desire of his offer – he’s gone to hell and back to prove that point. But, if you don’t want forgiveness, you won’t get it. Second, we forgive others by praying and offering forgiveness. Scripture says if we remember an offense while praying, we should forgive the offender. Later we’re taught to forgive like God forgives us: He offers and lovingly forgives once we get that we’ve offended him. Similarly, we must offer to release our offenders from the relational separation they’ve caused.
Let’s put the two together – God’s forgiveness and ours. We must pray and stand ready to make the promise of forgiveness just like God offers to us: He’s ready to forgive and he’s full of love toward his enemies.
Not confronting the wrongdoer would be like a loan agency clearing your debt without your knowledge, and then letting you continue to pay each month. It’s hard, but we must do it.
So, the answer is no, you can’t fully forgive someone who doesn’t want to be forgiven. And yes, you can pray and offer forgiveness like God has offered it to us.