Do we need the "right to revenge" in order to have forgiveness?


When somebody injures us in some way, as Christians we should be forgiving. But does this forgiveness have any meaning if it is the only permissible course of action?

Forgiving someone is choosing reconciliation and the withdrawal penalties, even though we have been the victims of wrongdoing. This would suggest that there needs to be a right to demand “hard justice”, and that forgiveness is the wilful forfeiting of that right.

Forgiveness therefore can only have meaning if we have a real right to demand our full price in reparations.

If our theology demands that we be always forgiving (meaning revenge is no longer our right), what value can this forgiveness have if we are not sacrificing a right?


What brought this to mind was something I heard happened in Iran. A female student had been rejecting the advances of a man; this man took the rejection badly and retaliated by throwing acid in the girls face, blinding and disfiguring her permanently. The courts ordered that the man should pay in a way befitting, and that he should be blinded with twenty drops of acid in the eyes. Before this action was taken, the girl decided to forgive the man for what he had done, and he was pardoned from the punishment.

That seems to me like an instance of genuine forgiveness. It was not considered wrong for the girl to demand justice, but it was deemed preferable and laudable that she be forgiving. She forfeited a punishment the law could have inflicted, and did so completely out of her free will. But it was only the right to demand punishment that made that choice significant.


One can forgive and still expect accountability.


I believe it doesn’t matter what ability we have (if any) for revenge.

I would like to share a previous post with you on forgiveness that may help.

Post 1
Post 2

Thank you for reading


Despite forgiveness being a requirement of faith its meaning is not determined by our decision not to seek revenge. Its meaning comes from the presence of full, loving forgiveness in my heart. I do this independent of legal justice or God’s judgment on the actions of the offender. I may or may not see justice carried out in my lifetime, but I have certainty that God’s perfect justice will prevail.

I personally feel very little vengeful feelings against those who have offended me. I was abused by multiple persons, but I have no desire for vengeance. My decision, therefore, lies not in releasing vengeance but in my desire to let God’s healing fill me. Every spot filled with hate, vengeance, or hostility is one which cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, forgiveness is not for the sake of the other. It is for us! It perfects our soul.




Is expecting accountability a form of conditional forgiveness? “I forgive you IF some degree of justice is met”.

In any case, is moral accountability really separate from retribution for damages done? The concept is that reasonable repercussions follow from bad actions. Pardoning the repercussions is being forgiving and not demanding a price be paid. Forgiving the person but not the act is not true forgiveness.


Did not Pope John Paul forgive his would be assassin in a jail cell?
He did not, nor would he say,“I forgive you if you are held accountable.”
Forgiveness is unconditional. Accountability is another matter.

Someone tossed away my laundry. :mad:
Do I forgive her?
Could I have taken the money she offered?
Did taking or not taking the money negate my forgiveness?
Not at all.
I forgave her.
Do I still have non matching sox?


I’d say it’s possible to forgive in the sense of repairing the relationship even if the offender is also punished for the act. It does probably help if the punishment is something automatic done by a third party (usually the authorities) rather than something inflicted personally by the supposedly forgiving person, though.

As a famous Catholic example, St. Maria Goretti forgave her murderer before she died and (according to his testimony) appeared to him from Heaven to say she was praying for him to repent and join her there. It took awhile longer, but even Maria’s mother chose to forgive and even befriend the young man. Nevertheless, he still spent time in prison for murdering someone. (He does seem to have gotten out awfully early for a murderer, perhaps because he was young himself when he committed the act, but I don’t know if Maria’s family had anything to do with that.)

Usually, victims have little control over the state’s punishment of a criminal, though they may be able to Influence the length of a sentence in either direction. I have heard of victims or victims’ families actively lobbying against particularly extreme and permanent punishments, such as death or the blinding you mention.

I also don’t think that the Christian expectation of forgiveness takes away from our ability to do so, as long as it is recognized that we are going beyond what we are owed in justice (so that the offender or society at large shouldn’t be able to guilt someone into forgiving as though it’s the only civilized response).



Do we have a right to do the wrong thing? Do we have a right to do foolish things?

The bottom line when it comes to forgiveness is that we are all sinners, and there but for the grace of God go I; and “Forgive us our trespasses *as we forgive those who trespass against us.” *

IOW, there is a reason to forgive, and there is a consequence to not-forgiving.

Even psychologically, the bitterness and vengefulness engendered by not-forgiving is very bad for us and does nothing about the trespasser.


We don’t have the right to not forgive because we ourselves have been saved, and so it would be hypocrisy to be forgiven and to not forgive, and indeed, we forfeit our salvation if that is what we do.

It is not hypocrisy to allow temporal consequences for forgiven sins, because we ourselves suffer temporal consequences for our forgiven sins.

It is not hypocrisy to not forgive a person who does not want to be forgiven. God does not forgive those who do not want to be forgiven, therefore, we are to do likewise.


Ah, but the man who shot John Paul was already being punished for his crime, there was no need to demand justice.

Why did you choose not to accept the money? Did it feel wrong doing so or was it just that you didn’t consider it a big deal?


It seems that you are saying that to forgive a person is to reject vengefulness desires towards them. That is my point also. But what I am saying is that when revenge is not our right, and the desire for revenge is left as a sterile non-option, then we cannot make a moral choice between revenge or forgiveness. If someone doesn’t pay for a wrong he has committed, we may feel perhaps bitter - not at them, but at the injustice of the situation. Then it is as you say: we “may or may not see justice carried out in [our] lifetime, but [we] have certainty that God’s perfect justice will prevail.” The demand for justice remains if we feel justice has not been done, unless we choose to forgive, which is when we stop wishing that the hammer of justice falls on those who have injured us.


Forgiveness means giving up the* desire for revenge.
It in no way requires that we have a
right* to take revenge.

“I forgive you” means “I will not hate you. I will not crave revenge. I will not nurse a grievance against you”
For this it is not in the least necessary that I have any right to take revenge.

For that matter, forgiveness does not have to mean the forgiven offender must be spared all punishment or consequences.


Bolding mine

Yes, we can. If I don’t have a right to do something, my decision to refrain from doing it is still a moral choice.
I have no right to steal your wallet. But if tempted to do so, my choice to refuse the temptation is still a moral choice.


You actually make a very good point about how justice is carried out by a third party. This got me thinking about my example of the Iranian woman. It seems that sharia law acts more as a mediator between parties than as a third party; it is a technical difference but it changes everything. A sharia court would see these matters as a question of personal injury rather than simply an offence against the laws of civil conduct. Although I clearly have disagreements with sharia law I have to say that at least it is less impersonal than secular law. It brings up the interesting issue of how non-institutional religions produce non-institutional conceptions of law, whereas institutional religions such as Catholicism lead to third party mediation.

In any case, it does seem that in cases of personal injury (which is really what we are taking about, since it is these which involve the question of forgiveness) when the injured party decides to forgive the other they no longer feel the need for the offender to suffer the consequences. As you put it, the injured party may even lobby for clemency - it seems the third party may even stand in the way of practical forgiveness.

Outside of the sphere of civil authorities, do you think forgiveness must include rejecting the desire for punishment, or at least dropping a grudge we may be holding towards the wrongdoer?


I am certainly not advocating stealing wallets. When I say “right to revenge” I mean a proportional response, in a legally established way. (Kind of like how it used to be acceptable and legal to duel). I am talking about a hypothetical context where the law allows a more direct application in personal matters - it recognises personal injury between parties and allows for either forgiveness or measured justice. Refraining from something you can actually do is different from refraining from what you can’t.


It is quite possible to indulge in the desire for revenge even if one has no right to seek revenge.
To forgive or not forgive is a real moral choice.


Thank you for the posts.

I do believe there is a difference between having and not having the ability for revenge. The most obvious one is that you can decide to turn away from practical revenge.

You are right in that there is no sense in staying angry at injustices we can do nothing about. In those cases it is much better to rationalise things and moralise the issue. However, that is more of a coping strategy than choosing to forgive someone. It is born out of the lack of resolution we find in a society which doesn’t allow legal revenge, and the right to reject this option out of forgiveness.


Isn’t it a bit like quitting smoking in a world with no tobacco?

(I meant that in reference to forgiving in a world with no possibility of revenge)

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