Forgiveness: From the Heart, or the Will?


I’ve been given conflicting advice about forgiveness from different people…

One line of thought says that forgiveness is an act of the will. To forgive means to make a decision that we intend to let a person “off the hook” of his punishment for whatever wrong they have done to us.

Another line of thought says that forgiveness is an act of the heart, it is about letting go of bad feelings towards a person, and truly getting over the anger and loving the person from the heart.

I much prefer the first definition, but then we have the words of Christ himself: “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.

But this seems to be very unfair - the feelings in my heart are not something I choose. If I wince and my adrenaline pumps and I have to fight off fantasies of revenge against someone who has hurt me deeply, that is a problem that I can’t just fix by an act of the will. It seems very unfair that God will send me to hell if I still have bitter feelings in my heart that I can’t get rid of when I die. Does God really expect us to forgive from the heart? Isn’t it enough to just try to stop having those feelings, and try not to fantacize about revenge?

It seems to me that the whole “from the heart” theology leads to despair… not only do we go through life with fear and pain in our hearts from past offenses against us, we have to live in the knowledge that we will suffer in hell for eternity because we still have this pain :frowning:


I believe that the expression “the heart” is the same thing as “the will”.

It is a spiritual way of saying “the will”, and from the depths of our being.

The physical heart is an organ in our body, but it is used symbolically here.


Forgiving “from the heart” does not mean that we have warm congenial feelings toward the person. We are not entirely in control of our feelings. I think, as the previous poster stated, that the heart and the will are the same in this context (or closely linked). We must be able to pray for the person who has offended us, and desire what is good for them.

It might not even necessarily mean letting them “off the hook” for the punishment due them. Sometimes a person needs negative consequences to truly experience a change of heart, and that might be the best thing for them. Especially if we are the parent to the offender; it might be an injustice to let them off the hook; it may be our duty to assign an appropriate punishment. Even God sometimes punishes us after He has forgiven us.

Of course, this does not give us free license to punish out of anger, unjustly, at will, nor if it is not our place to do so.


If it was only up to our hearts to forgive, then it would never happen! It’s just too hard; only a very, very few would ever be able to accomplish it. Forgiveness is an action we take, not for the other person (because how would they know unless you told them?) but for the benefit of our own souls. It’s the action itself, telling God and yourself, “I forgive this person for X and X offenses” that lessens the anger/hurt/need-for-vengeance/etc in our hearts.

It is a separate matter to hold someone accountable for an offense for justice’s sake. Example: Sending someone to jail for murder.


i had a hard time forgiving someone once and i was in agony because i just didn’t want to forgive, even though i knew in my head that i had no business not forgiving since Christ has forgiven me.

i guess there needs to be a definition (a definite one) on the word Forgive.

and then one for the term: “from the heart”

I asked myself Why is it so hard to forgive this person?

one reason was kind of personal… but another thing that came to me was that i couldn’t see any reason for the person doing/saying what — said/did. Then, i tried to u/stand the person’s bad experiences in childhood and beyond… hard to do since i didn’t know much about that.

but one day i had this weird experience (not the first time, though): i started thinking about things i didn’t want to think about - really bad thoughts just popped into my head and i wanted the thoughts to go away but for some reason i couldn’t will them - immediately - to go away.

So i realized that sometimes people cannot control the way they think… which leads to them not controlling what they say. You would think they could at least control the way they act but not even that sometimes. I have said things and then wondered, “Why did i say that? when that’s not what i meant”, etc…

The point is, when people are not very Christian, they do and say things they don’t necessarily mean to say and do… things that don’t tell the whole story of what they meant… their heart’s motives. Also, of course, those who don’t know Jesus well just don’t see the wrong-ness of their actions…

even stranger, i have had this other experience: when i am under pressure of some kind or [whatever] i say something that’s rather the opposite of what i want to say…

so then i began to realize that maybe other people do that too…

I’m not making excuses for peple who do hideous evil like child sex abuse and other things…

but there is one thought that might help regarding even that:

There but for the grace of God go I.

If you hadn’t been raised Christian… God knows what you would be today… what you may have done.

It is all about Christ’s goodness. We have none of our own (without Him).


I think we forgive from the will, but the heart follows :slight_smile: but the will first.


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