A question to dovetail from another open thread regarding forgiveness

In the ‘Ask an Apologist’ section today, the question was asked “Can someone require people to first repent before forgiving them?” The answer was provided that we must be willing and ready to forgive, as it is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. He also explained that we pray in the Lord’s prayer "as we forgive those who trespass against us".

Full thread here: forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?threadid=787566

My husband was recently asking me this very same question, and I gave an answer much like the apologist. (:wink: Go me! :D) However, he came back with some follow-up questions that I have been working through in my head to come with an answer. You see, my husband still firmly believes that one must ask for forgiveness before we are to grant it if we are to forgive as God forgives. Why else would we have Reconciliation as a sacrament? Is it not necessary to ask God’s forgiveness in order to attain it?

I have been considering this, and I have a few thoughts of my own on how to answer him. But I thought it would be interesting to put it out to the group. What are your thoughts on this?

That recent AAA thread gives a somewhat different answer than this older one from Michelle Arnold (which is to a similar, but slightly different, question):


Jimmy Akin wrote a follow up article where he agrees with Arnold:

Forgiving the Unrepentant

Just to complicate things. :wink:

Forgiveness is primarily transactional, which is not surprising since the term is originally economic: you forgive a debt. Since it’s transactional, “forgiveness” doesn’t actually occur until the other person appropriates what you offer them, which they do by repentance. They ask forgiveness, you give it, and then forgiveness has been affected.

That we are called to forgive means, first, that we are called to actually forgive the repentant. It also requires that we be willing to forgive those who are unrepentant or, at least, not yet repentant. Their lack of repentance makes actual forgiveness impossible, but it doesn’t change your obligation to them in this respect.

This is why I include in my daily prayers a very simple line: “Forgive any who have wronged me, Lord, and hold nothing against them at Judgment on my account.”

This is very interesting and brings up some great points.

I am thinking of this in the context of my conversation with my husband… Would it be fair to say that, if being called to forgive also implies the requirement of the willingness to forgive, is it assumed that holding a grudge or strong negativity toward the unrepentant is contradictory to this teaching?

My view is a bit different from sw85’s above. I see it not so much in transactional terms but in terms of relationship.

In my life I have wronged others and I have been wronged by others.
Where I have wronged, I have attempted to apologize - to make amends if possible.
Where I have been wronged, I have let go of that wrong. I have forgiven.
In some cases the other party has reciprocated - and the relationship restored.
In other cases the other party has NOT reciprocated and the relationship has not been restored.
Regardless of whether the relationship is restored or not - I have done what I could. I have fulfilled to the best of my ability the commands of our Lord to forgive.

Now - your husband asks the question…“Is it not necessary to ask God’s forgiveness in order to attain it?” My answer is no - not in the relational sense. God holds no “grudge” against us. His heart is full of nothing but Love for us. However…it is up to us whether the relationship is restored. If we do not repent and come to the Lord then the relationship remains broken…the separation is on us - on our unwillingness to be restored to God. On the other hand, our coming to God and asking forgiveness restores the relationship.

I liken this idea to an electrical outlet. The power of life (for an appliance) is right there - constant and unchanging. But the appliance must be plugged in. And the appliance must go to the outlet…the outlet does not go to the appliance. :wink:


It depends on what you mean by “strong negativity.” We are not responsible for our feelings because they are epiphenomena of our biology. I cannot make myself feel happy, or sad, or content, etc. I can, on the other hand, choose to entertain feelings, to reinforce them, to cultivate them, etc. In other words, I have diplomatic but not despotic control over my passions.

So you cannot necessarily help feeling negatively toward a person, but you can help whether or not you entertain that negativity and turn it into an act of the will (e.g., actively working for their harm, badmouthing them, attacking them, cursing them, rejoicing in their sorrows, etc.). Since you’re ultimately only accountable for the things you will to do, this is really what matters. The best way to do this is to pray for that person, even if you (emotionally) hate them. Pray that God open their eyes and hearts, move them toward repentance and contrition and conversion, and save their souls.

That is an interesting way to look at it. So it would seem that one must always put their end of the “forgiveness transaction” out there so that forgiveness can happen immediately once the other party reciprocates. But until both parties do their part, forgiveness has not technically taken place.

:hmmm: I’ll have to think about that one for a bit.

That’s good. Viewing forgiveness in terms of relationship rather than transaction seems a little less cold. :stuck_out_tongue:

I like the outlet analogy. Except, I would add that – with God’s forgiveness – all the appliance has to do is turn around and begin heading toward the outlet, and the outlet will run out to meet it. :wink:

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