Question about forgiveness

I have a query about forgiveness.

Is forgiveness not a two way thing? That is to say, if a person does not want forgiveness, is not sorry, what difference does forgiving them make?

I appreciate it may make a difference to the one doing the forgiving, but to have its full effect, or in fact any effect, does the other party not have to want forgiveness?

Does the Church not teach that God does not forgive those who are not remorseful? As such, if a person makes it obvious they are not sorry, and reject forgiveness, can more be asked of us than God?

We are asked by God to forgive others, even if they do not want or accept that forgiveness. No it does not make any difference to the one doing the forgiving if the other party rejects it.


Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Says nothing about them wanting to be forgiven, just that we need to :wink:

Also, Matthew 6:15
“But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”


Also from the CCC:

CCC 2840 Now - and this is daunting - this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.

CCC 2841 This petition is so important that it is the only one to which the Lord returns and which he develops explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount. This crucial requirement of the covenant mystery is impossible for man. But “with God all things are possible.”

. . . as we forgive those who trespass against us

CCC 2845 There is no limit or measure to this essentially divine forgiveness, whether one speaks of “sins” as in Luke (11:4), “debts” as in Matthew (6:12). We are always debtors: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” The communion of the Holy Trinity is the source and criterion of truth in every relation ship. It is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.

God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord, and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thank you. I’m glad to see someone added it.

Where is the specification in these passages that we must forgive those who do not want or ask for our forgiveness?

Do these passages mean that if we forgive everyone who sins against us, whether or not they ask for our forgiveness, then God will forgive us whether or not we ask for forgiveness? Because that’s not what the Catholic Church teaches.

No, it means that we should always offer our forgiveness regardless of whether or not the other person accepts it, like God does with everyone.

Ahhhh that is a different question.

He commanded us to forgive others even if they did not demand it.
WE need to ask forgiveness so that we may receive it from God.
For if I sin against my brother is bad but how much worse it is if I sin against GOD?

So if we forgive, we will be forgiven IF we ask for forgiveness.
Of course if we do NOT ask forgiveness to GOD He will not forgive us. (Unrepentant?)

It matters not if those that trespass against us, asked us for it or not.

This I think falls into a word game that can be misleading if we aren’t careful.

For example, does God forgive the Damned? I think the answer is either yes or no depending on what you mean by the word “forgive.” Example:

Suppose Bob is in a state of grace - friendship with God. Bob then commits a mortal sin and by his own will destroys that friendship. God immediately offers to repair this relationship (that offer is ever present, and is there as soon as the sin happens). Bob can accept this offer and go to confession, at which point God repairs this friendship and Bob is again in a state of grace.

If by forgiveness, you mean the red, then God forgives everyone. If by forgiveness you mean the blue, then not so much - that does require two people as you say. I think the red is a better definition, but again, if we’re not careful it can become a word game.

So then, the question is “what are we commanded to do when we are commanded to forgive others?” I would say that we are commanded to do the red. You can’t repair a relationship with someone who doesn’t wish it repaired.

I don’t mean to be read as implying that we must be willing to reopen abusive relationships with people as soon as they say they are sorry - as I am using it above “relationship” means something else, something like a mutual good will (I will try to avoid a tangent in this direction for now, but just thought I’d mention it - this does not require that we be doormats).

You bring an important point on the issue of forgiveness and the Church is clear in this.
If we have been wronged, yes we need to forgive. That does not imply that we need to remain in a position of being wronged again.

We can and should make sure that the wrongdoer cannot hurt us again.
But we do need to be able to forgive and if we struggle with this we need to ask God to heal us. So that we can.

The way you clarified this is fantastic, Iron Donkey!:thumbsup:

So then, the question is “what are we commanded to do when we are commanded to forgive others?” I would say that we are commanded to do the red. You can’t repair a relationship with someone who doesn’t wish it repaired.

I don’t mean to be read as implying that we must be willing to reopen abusive relationships with people as soon as they say they are sorry - as I am using it above “relationship” means something else, something like a mutual good will (I will try to avoid a tangent in this direction for now, but just thought I’d mention it - this does not require that we be doormats).

The CCC 2840 definitely supports your explanation of forgiveness:"…In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love…"

As far as the scriptural support for forgiving those who have not repented, we have Jesus on the cross forgiving the unrepentant crowd. Jesus taught us how to forgive from the cross “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. Our forgiveness of others is to be unconditional, and in so doing we will realize God’s unconditional forgiveness. God is who we project Him to be. If we don’t forgive unconditionally,we will always be guessing whether God forgives us or not. This anxiety is the root of scrupulosity.

Ah, but here is the troubling passage, a seeming contradiction to the CCC. But it is not. The Catholic scripture scholar I know clarified this by putting Jesus’ words in the context of His contemporaries: God always forgives, but if we do not forgive others, all others, we will never be capable of knowing a God who forgives us. It is true, God as we know God in our own relationship with Him is only going to be as forgiving as we are.

This same scholar told us that the Jesus’ contemporaries had very personal relationships with God. If they were happy, then God was smiling on them. If they were sad, then God was treating them badly. If they felt guilty, then God was holding them in contempt. Jesus knew, though, that when we forgive everyone, unconditionally, we will know that God does the same.

As Iron Donkey stated, we are to do the statement in red. We have no control over relationships, only our own act of forgiveness.

The fact is, forgiveness is very difficult! If the person we are called to forgive is unrepentant, then we have two reasons to forgive. We are to forgive an infinite number of times, but forgiveness does not mean acquittal.

Matthew 6:15
But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.

Luke 23:34
And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. But they, dividing his garments, cast lots.

Matthew 18:
[21] Then came Peter unto him and said: Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? [22] Jesus saith to him: I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.

This may be the best explanation that I have seen in the several CAF threads on this subject in which I have participated.

For the record, and for the benefit of those who may think, based on my previous posts on the aforementioned threads, that I am an unforgiving so-and-so. However, I have learned on my long path to geezerhood that I enjoy my meals more and sleep better at night if I take whatever offenses have happened to me throughout the day and “cast them on the Lord” (I Peter 5:7).

This does not mean that I am repressing the anger (as was claimed about me in another thread), and therefore the anger will come boiling out in some other form. To repress anger, first one must own the anger, and most of the time I refuse to own it. Those few times when I do get angry about someone’s offense, there comes a time when I tell myself, “Okay, I’ve thought about this enough – time to give it to the Boss.” I may have to do this several times, but there is always a final time.

Nor does this mean that I blanketly (to coin a word) just forgive everyone. Like Iron Donkey explained in his/her excellent post, the forgiveness is there if the offender asks for it, but it is up to the offender to react to the need to ask for my forgiveness. Otherwise, I’m just going to go on about my life, bearing in mind the line from that great American philosopher, Gomer Pyle: “Fooled me once, shame on you; fooled me twice, shame on me!”

This is good reasoning. From what you have written - the offer of forgiveness is always there. This makes sense. However, it comes with a condition? In that, we do not withhold forgiveness but if a person does not want our forgiveness and is not open to repairing the relationship, the offer of forgiveness is on offer but in order to obtain it the other party has certain obligations?

Is that what you are saying?

I am glad you posted because my perception of forgiveness was we were expected to be doormats.

Forgiveness is so very difficult. Maybe not for the little things but things that are big or we just think them big. I recently remembered an event where someone did something wrong to me and I felt mentally and physically hot at the memory. This was something that happened 40+ years ago and I was shocked to find that my forgiveness was so incomplete to become so disturbed by it so many years later.

Not that this is totally on topic, more likely a tangent. It just seemed a good time to share it.

Religion aside for a moment, but in psychology forgiveness is usually seen as a necessary part of therapy where a person has wronged us. To forgo forgiveness is to risk having the anger and resentment repressed in our unconscious where it surfaces to cause problems in other areas of our life even long after the event has happened.

Pretty nearly. I might change the wording slightly: I would say that there are two distinct things here - forgiveness and reconciliation. This is where it becomes obvious that I’m involved in academia - I am very nearly incapable of giving a short answer. Here goes though:

Forgiveness, I think, entails primarily a desire for the best for the other person, and a hope that whatever wrong they did does not ultimately harm them. Note that this is not the same as hoping that they or letting them “get away with it” - what is truly best for the relative who steals from you for drug money, for example, is that he learn in no uncertain terms that stealing is bad, and that he looses access to both drug money and drugs. What is best may not be what the other wants, and going to prison or similar may very well be what is best.

In this way, by forgiveness you retain or recover your good will towards this person, and should this person reciprocate then you have been reconciled - there is no longer “bad blood” between you, as it were.

So I would not say so much that we are offering forgiveness, as that we are offering the possibility of reconciliation, and the mere act of offering this possibility is forgiveness. (It seems that some people use these words slightly differently, but I will try to make clear what I mean by them.)


I have to expand a little here, since you mention the doormat thing (that is an unfortunately common misconception about forgiveness): when I say reconciliation, I don’t necessarily mean a return to a close friendly relationship. I simply mean that each person desires good for the other. If two people realize that they drive each other up the wall and keep on offending each other meet one more time, shake hands, sincerely wish each other well (whatever “well” actually is in their case) and never see each other again, that, by my use of the word, counts as reconciliation.

If someone causes you grave harm, and is clearly not going to stop, and you wish him the best (keeping in mind that this does not mean “immediate success in what he is trying to do”), and move to the other side of the country and never speak to him again, that counts as forgiveness. If that person later admits his fault and also wishes you the best then that, by my use of the term and whether you ever know about it or not, counts as reconciliation.

In ideal circumstances, we can work to bring about this reconciliation, try to help them restore their goodwill towards us and generally make things happy again. This is what God does for us - He doesn’t just decide that He won’t hold something against us, but also actively seeks to bring our relationship with Him to be as intimate and close as it can be. And when we can do this with each other, that is awesome.

And in normal circumstances, we may even have a duty to seek this deeper, more meaningful reconciliation, to actively try to restore a good relationship between the other and ourselves. But we also have a duty to protect ourselves and others, and it may be that trying to do this will not only obviously fail, but will cause harm to ourselves, the one who wronged us, and even others in the process. And in such cases we are not bound to do so, and doing so is definitely not inherently part of forgiveness.

**Note: **I poked around a little on the internet to make sure I wasn’t totally off base in my use of the words, and it seems as though what I’m saying is pretty close to everything else I could find (in 5 minutes of googling, anyway) - except that some people use a stronger notion of reconciliation (become friends again, more or less) and so say that that is not always desirable. It seems to amount to the same thing though - wish them the best - whatever that might be - but keep your distance if you must. Here’s a link: And here’s another, though they use the word “reconciliation” differently as just mentioned:

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