There will always be people in this world who do wrong. Sometimes their wrongs are directed at themselves (low self-esteem/self-loathing) but other times they are focused on another person or people. That is where the subject of this article comes in: forgiveness or accepting an apology. Is there a difference between the two? If the offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness, should the victim still accept an unspoken apology? Can the phrase “forgive and forget” be practiced in reality?
The entire act of forgiveness means that someone has done you wrong. They may not believe they have offended you but if you still believe they have, you need to feel a sense that they are sorry or have forgiven you. Forgiveness is about moving on. It’s about changing perspective. It’s about not bringing up the past but continuing on either in trust or with a new healthy life apart from the old one where you are truly happy and at peace.
Sometimes the offender does not feel that they need to ask for forgiveness or they continue to do wrong even though they have asked for an apology. In the latter case, the victim would further punish themselves if they continued to trust their offender. “Sometimes it’s just best to love them at a distance,” a wise friend told me once. If the offender is a family member, the difficulty is multiplied. Friends can be chosen but family can’t and you usually have an obligation to them because they’re your blood.
Unforgiveness can be placed on the back burner but it must be approached at some time. Otherwise it will fester and churn inside you. It will make you a bitter and untrusting person. I know people who refuse to forgive their offender. They look years older, they have that distant glare as if they’re always thinking of something or carrying a burden. However, even though you’ve forgiven someone, it’s okay if you continue on not trusting them.
Distrust and unforgiveness are similar. They both mean that you have distanced yourself from someone. They’re different though because it’s okay to not trust someone but if you hang on to unforgiveness, it will become a burden too heavy to bear. The act of forgiving someone isn’t just to benefit the offender but it actually brings peace to the victim. It says that they will not bring up the offence again as a reminder that they were wronged. It releases them from any obligation of carrying any burden of guilt or regret.
Now accepting an apology is a bit different than actually forgiving someone. In order for an apology to be accepted, the offender must first ask for one. Now in turn, if the victim accepts the apology, it simply says that they have heard the offender. The victim might not be ready to turn around and forgive the offender but accepting the apology is the first step towards forgiveness. However, it must not end with the simple acceptance. The victim has to begin traveling down the road towards healing. They need to know that their goal is to eventually forgive their offender. Even if the offender has died or refuses to see their act or acts as wrong, the victim must accept the unspoken apology.
“Forgive and forget” is easy enough to say but almost impossible to implement into one’s life. We’re only human after all. Sure the victim can say to their offender that they forgive them but the offence will always be remembered. Only God is capable of forgetting your offence or sin, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us,” Psalm 103:12 (NIV).
Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone you have wronged removed the hurtful act from you so far that it would never be remembered again? Can you do that to someone who has wronged you? We sin every day and offend God in our selfish acts. However, He is always ready to forgive and forget if we are willing to ask for it. He is the perfect example of forgiveness. The author of Psalms chose the distance “as far as the east is from the west” because it is too far to be measured. If the author chose “as far as the earth is from the sun”, there would be a limit of how far God would remove our sins from His memory. But think about it, if you began to travel east or west, you will always be traveling in that direction. However, if you travel north or south, you will eventually reach one of the poles and will be traveling in the opposite direction. What an amazing illustration!
When we forgive someone, it shows God what we think of forgiveness. Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you still harbor unforgiveness towards someone:
- Consider the phrase: “I forgive you, no problem,” What are some ways people wrongly understand and live out forgiveness?
- Should the wrongdoing be focused on and discussed before one or both parties can move on?
- Who is the most forgiving person you know? How do they make you or others feel forgiven?
- Consider this: “Sin creates a debt that must be paid.” When others sin against you, what are some ways that you are tempted to “take payments” on their debt? How could you deliberately “make payments” on their debt?
- Fill in the blanks: “I promise I will not _____ on this incident,” “I promise I will not _____ up this incident and use it against my offender,” “I promise I will not _____ to others about this incident,” “I promise I will not allow this incident to _____ between us or _____ our personal relationship,”
- How can focusing on the forgiveness God offers through the Bible help you make and keep those promises?
I think that for people to actually forgive and forget means that the offence will not be brought up again as a reminder that the offender was in the wrong. It says that the victim has moved on in their lives and either reunites with their former offender and moves on in a new relationship or the victim and offender part ways.
Sometimes the latter situation is necessary to prevent further damage. The victim has to protect their heart from additional hurt if they don’t trust their offender. What if they forgive the other person but the offender just goes back and does the same thing again and again? “Shame on you if you fooled me once, shame on me if you fool me twice,” was about the wisest thing Leann Rimes said in her song “Life Goes on”!
I’m speaking to myself here as well. There is someone who was in my life and committed a very unjust, vile act. (To protect this person, I will just refer to them as “Charlie”.) In order to guard myself from further damage, I have since distance myself from Charlie. As a result, I have no regrets of making that decision. I am actually a happier person because of the choice I made. I feel a freedom to be who I had originally set out to be. I am not held down anymore by Charlie’s controlling ways.
However, I can honestly say that I haven’t truly forgiven Charlie. I haven’t accepted Charlie’s unspoken apology. This person who has done me a terrible wrong has tremendous unforgiveness in their heart. Charlie constantly brings up things in our past and thinks that I was in the wrong and will not move past it. Even though I have asked Charlie countless times to forgive me, Charlie remains a very bitter person.
Even if Charlie never asks for an apology, I don’t want to become that bitter, unforgiving person. So I must come to a place where I am able to accept an unspoken apology and forgive Charlie. I have made the first step though in accepting that apology. I don’t bring up the things Charlie has wronged me with. Sure, I remember them as if they happened yesterday but they don’t affect me anymore. There is probably more freedom in forgiving someone than being on the receiving end of forgiveness. I know I will have to experience that some day and before I can truly move on in my life, I will have to forgive everything Charlie has offended me with. I won’t go to my death bed with out that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a natural tenancy humans possess. It is not the easy way out. It is more natural to continue on hating your offender and punishing them by bringing up the wrongdoings they have done to you. However, what is easy is not what is always right. Like an investment, forgiveness takes time to reveal its rewards. You must place daily deposits into it in order for there to be a long-term benefit. I am far from perfect. By sharing the above story with you, I have shown that I am the guilty one here. Through writing this article, I am speaking more to myself than anyone. I also hope that you as a reader have learned something as well. Start showing more forgiveness in your life. Live out the examples God has shown us in scripture and start to see miraculous things happen in your life!