Should I Forgive If They Aren't Sorry? Forgiveness, Part 2.

Someone hurt my child. Like a mama bear protecting her cub, I want to swing my vicious claws to protect her and keep it from happening again. If they back off and acknowledge they have done her wrong, I might be appeased. If they apologize too, then I can return to my cave with my cub and be at peace. But what if they only back off? What if they never admit it was wrong, let alone apologize? And if they repeatedly attack, am I supposed to keep on forgiving?

Forgiveness is the act of freeing someone from the obligation to pay back for the wrong done to you. Many Christians say that we must forgive for our own sakes in order to free ourselves from resentment and bitterness. Some say to tell the offender they are forgiven, even if they are not sorry. But is it Biblical to extend forgiveness to someone who won’t admit they’ve done wrong?

Being Ready to Forgive Vs. the Act of Forgiveness

In Mark 11:25, Jesus calls us to be forgiving. According to Tyler Kennedy, “Scripture requires us to distinguish between being forgiving, which is the virtue of always being ready and eager to forgive, and the act of forgiveness, which is the actual remission of sin done against us.”

The person who refuses to acknowledge their wrong cannot experience forgiveness in the full sense. We can let go of our resentment, give our anger to God, and we can pray goodness for that person, but forgiveness to its fullness cannot be extended without contrition.

Even when the offender is not sorry, we don’t sit around seething in bitterness, waiting for them to come to their senses. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to do good to them. We are to be eager and ready to forgive, to wait patiently to grant it. This means we can’t be harboring resentment or dwelling on the offense. We must release the expectation that they need to pay back what we feel is owed us for their offense.

The Necessity of Sorrow

In Matthew 18:21-22, when Peter asks how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus answers that we should forgive 70 times seven. Nothing about repentance of the offender is mentioned. But look at the context. In the following parable, a servant was forgiven for his large debt that he owed the king when he begged for mercy.  Then the servant searched out his fellow servants and demanded payment for what they owed him. When they begged for mercy, he was not willing to forgive.  Referring back to how often Jesus said we should forgive, it seems that repentance is assumed. When forgiveness is asked for, we should grant it, just as the Father did for us. But what if they don’t want forgiveness? What if they aren’t sorry?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…absolution without personal confession” (Cost of Discipleship). God is always ready to forgive, but it is not extended until we ask for it. It is not extended until we agree with God that what we did was wrong and we are remorseful. Repentance is necessary.

If we tell people they are forgiven for an offense they refuse to acknowledge is wrong, we rob them of the incentive of the Gospel. We minimize the offensiveness of our own sin against God. We rob Jesus of the glory of His work on the cross, the depth of his sacrificial death. We cheapen the value of God’s grace.


Being ready to forgive enables us to release resentment and bitterness. Being ready to forgive sets us free, even if the apology never comes. The act of forgiveness should follow an expression of sorrow for wrong. But if sorrow never comes and we never get the opportunity to extend forgiveness to its fullest extent, being loving and willing to forgive transforms our character. It will beautifully change us so that we become more like Jesus.

When Forgiveness Is Denied (Forgiveness Part 1)

In a cycle of hurt feelings and retaliation, my daughter played a “prank” on a friend. It wasn’t just something silly. It was destructive, performed in a spirit of revenge. Afterwards, she was sorrowful for her vindictive behavior when she realized how much pain it inflicted. So last weekend, I accompanied her to her friend’s house to meet with both the girl and her mother to apologize.

Before she could complete her apology, her friend exploded with strings of profanities and accusations that appalled me while her mother quietly observed. Tears streamed down my daughter’s cheeks as she received the onslaught and fought the urge to defend herself in like manner. My gentle pat on her back reminded her not to mirror the behavior, but instead to do what Jesus would do in the middle of false accusations and just listen and be silent. Her friend was unwilling to listen. We left unable to achieve any reconciliation or peace.

For a while, I doubted my decision to allow my daughter to be subjected to verbal abuse. Perhaps I should have removed her from the situation sooner, insisting on mutual respect. Perhaps I should have said we would return later when her friend was willing to have a discussion.

This week, God reassured me through Matthew 5 - Jesus tells us not to lose a minute but to make the first move to make things right. He wants us to abandon our worship and offerings if we remember a grudge a friend has against us and go immediately to work things out. We are responsible for our own actions, not others’ responses.

God’s way is not always the easy way and may look strange to the world, but it is always the best way, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Doing the right thing was hard. It took courage. And at the moment, it feels unrewarded. But I deeply recognize how beautiful forgiveness can be now that I know how it feels to have it denied for a long length of time.

I am fighting the feeling of resentment for the verbal attack on my daughter. Holding onto a wrong seems to be the easier way sometimes. The flesh naturally wants to rehearse the wrongs, compile a list of offenses, and command repayment for what is owed. But if I hang on to my resentment, then I am no better off than the offender.

God’s forgiveness when I repent has never looked so beautiful. When someone expresses remorse for wrong done to me, I would like to think I would be quick to grant it. But what if the offender is never sorry? Am I required to forgive? And does forgiving mean that I have to always forget the offense as well? Have I truly forgiven if I keep remembering it? I plan to explore the answers in my next three posts and would love to hear your thoughts.

Enemies of the Heart - Book Review

You may have heart disease, and it’s not caused by cholesterol, triglycerides, or hypertension.  It’s a heart disease of another kind, the kind that poisons our relationships, our faith, our character, our lives.  It is caused by four primary enemies of the heart that gain strength from darkness and proliferate in secrecy.  Their corrosive power grows like a lab experiment gone wrong. But they dissipate when exposed to the light of truth.  These monstrous forces are: guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.

Maybe you think you don’t have a problem with one or any of these issues.  Read Andy Stanley’s Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions That Control You and think again! I already knew that sometimes I deal with guilt and anger, but I never thought of myself as a greedy or jealous. Andy Stanley asked some thought-provoking questions that pierced light in the dark corners of my heart.

The four enemies of the heart are all about owing someone.  The problem:
  1. Guilt says “I owe you”.  The only way I can make things right is to pay up.  The only way my heart will get relief is for my debt to be paid or cancelled. Guilt can lead to bad relational decisions.

  1. Anger says “You owe me”.  Anger results from not getting something we want.  How long are we going to allow the people who have hurt us to control our life? We have a choice in the matter, even though we can’t undo what’s been done.

  1. Greed says “I owe me”. What’s mine is mine because I earned it.  I don’t part with money or stuff because I’m scared to.  I might need it someday.

  1. Jealousy says “God owes me”.  We can’t always get what we want. We become jealous when we think of the things others have that we lack, and while we assume the problem is with that person who has it, the problem is really with God who could have fixed it.

Andy Stanley doesn’t stop at the problem. The remaining two-thirds of the book dive into confronting the disease.  In a nutshell:
  1. Guilt is conquered with confession.
  2. Anger is conquered with forgiveness.
  3. Greed is conquered with generosity.
  4. Jealousy is conquered with celebration.
He doesn’t try to oversimplify it into a series of steps, but rather, clarifies that confronting these are more like “processes” that must be repeated. He explores the power of confession, unleashing forgiveness, gaining perspective, releasing blame, and many habits to practice.  While providing concrete, biblical advice, he insists that the routines, when practiced, will define the rhythm of your heart and make your life noticeably different. 

In the book’s conclusion, just before a section of discussion questions for each chapter, he describes how to raise your children so that they are attuned to what’s inside of them.  He pointedly asks which question do you ask more, “Is your room clean?” or a question about the heart like “Are you worried about anything today?” 

This conversational style book is scripturally based and almost brings it back to the cross, where all out debts are cancelled, though I felt this could have been emphasized more.  I was surprised that he claims the root of all problems is these four issues, but he never mentions the root of the four issues themselves.  He never addresses it or even states the word - pride.  Maybe he’s planning a sequel.  The book was enlightening as well as practical and I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed herein are my own.


Getting Back Up When Life Knocks You Down - Book Review

Sometimes I think denial can be a gift for a short amount of time. It may be a means of coping until you are ready to process something traumatic.  But denial can be destructive too.  Whether it is denial of the facts, denial of the impact, or denial of denial itself, it will eventually hurt you until you turn it around by swallowing a heavy dose of acceptance blended with a little humility and courage.  In the book Getting Back Up When Life Knocks You Down, Jeremy Kingsley guides you through practical steps to not only stand back up and cope, but actually thrive when life knocks you in the gut and kicks the breath out of you.
Through the use of life illustrations and examples, Jeremy Kingsley shows that you are not alone when you have been slammed with the unexpected. He addresses the root cause anger (which is often fear), the different ways people handle it, and how to relinquish it.  If you are caught playing the blame game when life knocks you down, he offers steps to taking responsibility and seeking solutions.  He provides steps to forgiveness, ways to let go of guilt, and six worry busters.  
But six steps to bust worry from your life? Deal with anger and bitterness in a few easy steps? He conveys the remedies to life’s problems in such an oversimplified manner that he comes across as one of those friends who rattle off advice without the experience to back it up.  It seemed like common sense stuff to me.
Not feeling sure if I had read too many books to give this book a fair assessment, I asked my sister to read it and share her thoughts. While she is not an avid reader, she is fighting the ultimate life-knock-down, a whole series of punches in the gut, and she agreed to read it during this season of her life when she is trying to get back up on her feet with her family in an entirely new environment.  She loved it! She discovered a deeper understanding of her emotions and valuable ideas to put into practice.  She did note that sometimes she wished the author had dug a little deeper or expanded on some issues.
This short, quick read is more about what you can do rather than what God can do, a sort of Christianized self-help book, but it may be just the book to read when you are in the midst of difficulties.  Even if you don’t feel like life knocked you down, there are still some insights and fresh ideas to put into practice in your daily life.  Though scripture references are lacking in this book, it is clearly grounded in biblical principles. 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Class Rosters, Control, and Something Better

Every fall, as a parent I feel a little anxiety over which teacher or which peers will be in my kids’ classes.  This feeling reminds me to urge my kids to pray and trust that God knows what is best for them.  Still, I struggle to suppress the desire to take action – to initiate requests for specific teachers or control the outcome in some way. 

If I really believe that God hears my prayers, knows what is best, and is involved in the details of our lives, then unless I feel Him pressing on my heart to take action, I should just let Him have the control. I don't need to try to manipulate things to go my way.  Still, it isn’t easy…

Five Years Ago
I remember that sweltering hot afternoon in Texas standing in lines outside the elementary school doors, waiting for a peek at the class rosters for the new school year (WHY didn’t they post them on the web??).  My daughter and I had prayed that God would give her the beloved fifth grade teacher that she deeply hoped for and that her best friend would be in her class.  When we approached the doors, finally next in line, huge tears swelled in her eyes as she discovered that God gave her neither – in fact, she not only got the ‘worstest teacher ever,’ but there was no one in her circle of friends on her class roster. To compound the matter, her best friend got the best teacher and all the good friends.  She sobbed in the car the whole way home and my heart broke for her. 

Fast forward one month later – the ‘worstest teacher ever’ turned out to be the best -- a great fit to prepare her for middle school.  Jenna, a girl in her class that seemed obnoxious the year before, became her new best friend. Even more amazing, a couple years later, Jenna moved to Kansas the exact same year that we were also transplanted, and their friendship has continued to deepen as they live only one hour apart.  God didn’t give us what we wished for.  He gave us something better.

As I write this, my son’s eyes are puffy and red from tears of disappointment.  My heart is shattering with his. I want to step in and take control, to fix the problem, but I need to remember what God has done in the past so that I can trust Him with the future.

I had tried to prepare for this.  Last night, while counting the number of fifth and sixth graders that might be enrolled this year, I considered the idea of the dreaded “combination class.”   When I mentioned the possibility to my son, he said he’d rather die than be stuck with baby fifth graders.  My words of comfort were that perhaps my idea was wacky and that instead we should pray and trust God with the outcome.

But then what did I do? I e-mailed the principal my son’s concern about the combination class hoping it would overrule my sister’s phone call that our boys be placed in separate classes.  My sister had not known about the possibility of the combination class, and if she had, she never would have made that phone call.  Otherwise, one of us would have a suicidal sixth grader on our hands.  How could I just sit back and see what God would do?  How could the combination class be good for either of them? I knew it would be better for them to be together than for one of them to be in the combination class.

Then the dreaded thing happened. This afternoon, the principal called and personally explained why my sixth grader was ESPECIALLY hand-picked for the combination class, the class that he had declared was worse than death itself (just for dramatic effect – we know heaven is better than ANYTHING). 

My son doesn’t really want to hear that God knows better, that what He gives is better than what we wish. He doesn’t want to hear that God is in control and has this planned for his good.  All he knows is that right now it feels like the end of the world and he wants me to change it.  And I am fighting the urge to fix his pain by manipulating the outcome. Do I intervene to give him what he wants and what I think is good for him? Or do I just listen and watch, and be ready to remind him a month from now that God did indeed give Him something better...

Stumbling Into Grace, by Lisa Harper -- Book Review

Lisa Harper has a gift of evoking both laughter and deep thought from the reader in her book Stumbling into Grace: Confessions of a Sometimes Spiritually Clumsy Woman.  My first reaction to the attractive, cute cover with the little girl dressed up in pink was that this book was going to be as fluffy as the skirt the little girl was wearing. 
Each chapter begins with a peek into an episode in the life of Lisa Harper, almost as if I could read her thoughts as she experienced something that I could relate to in my own life – stories of a something embarrassing, humiliating, or stressful, or how she reacted in dealing with different types of people. Her gift of story-telling her experiences caused me to giggle as well as contemplate my own perceptions. Then she followed her tale with a passage from the Gospels relating to the life of Jesus.  She effectively builds the bridge between the Bible and her own modern life.  At the end of each chapter, she provides a prayer, questions for personal reflection or group discussion, and a prompt for your own journal entry.
I was pleasantly surprised that this book, even with its poignant and witty life stories, was not fluffy after all.  Her ability to tie the lesson from the Gospels to her everyday life inspired me to look harder at my own daily stories and to open my eyes as to how God’s Words apply.
Some things that I want to remember in this book that really struck a chord in my heart:
·    During times of extreme stress, we should focus on inhaling God’s peace and exhaling anxiety. I plan to practice this for an upcoming job interview and every time I begin to feel anxiety over an upcoming trip across the border.

·    “The congregation is the hermeneutic of the Gospel” (Lesslie Newbigin). Our understanding of who Jesus is develops through the lens of community.  Lisa Harper says that God positions people around us as amazing carriers of His grace.  I am seeing how the people in my life can develop my understanding of the depth of God’s love and grace, strengthening my grasp on the multi-faceted aspects of His character.

·    “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Anne Lamott).  Lisa Harper’s story of her day around irritating and annoying people triggers laughter because we can all relate! She goes on to say that she is glad that Jesus isn’t irritated by the people who irritate us.  If we choose to focus on the whole of other people’s stories as opposed to one irritating chapter, we can become less and less critical of others.

I give this book five stars out of five! To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.