Forgiveness is a Contract, Not a Coping Strategy

Forgiving someone who has neither asked for it nor admitted to any violation is not possible. Forgiveness not sought is pointless. For example, by definition, you cannot give a person a gift if the gift isn’t wanted or accepted.

Forgiveness as a tool for emotional healing willl have the opposite effect, and will prove destructive; and further, it really just means the excuse of evil, or the repression of one’s justifiable anger, or both. This isn’t a remediation of the wrongdoing suffered, it is a compounding of it.  And this makes it satanic.

Some may claim that forgiveness is a way we don’t allow evil people and their actions to have power over us (whatever the fuck that means). But two things:

First, you cannot say “I will love and accept you [which is precisely what forgiveness is] no matter how evil you are or what evil you remorselessly perpetrate” without at the very least tacitly excusing the evil. And excusing evil,  empowers evil. It does not neutralize it. 

Second, evil SHOULD have the “power”–that is, the effect of making us angry; to make us hurt so that we see it and feel it for the turgid crime that it is; to spur us on to demand its redaction and to furiously demand justice.

Also, to not extend forgiveness does not necessarily mean that one wishes harm or death upon the perpetrator of the violation. It is not the desire for revenge. It is simply a rational recognition of the inability to excuse guilt until the guilty admit their failure and vow to correct it.

We must remember that real forgiveness is meant to be a contract between people, a peace between the repentant wrongdoer and the wronged. It is not an emotional coping strategy for the legitimate sufferer of evil. A better coping strategy for dealing with unrepentant perpetrators of evil is justice, and/or a termination of the relationship, or even violent defense of oneself, depending on the circumstance.

Finally, in my experience I have noticed that forgiveness-absent-contrition tends to favor the evil doer, and especially authoritarian clergy people, who often shift the focus from their wickedness and mendacity to YOUR “sin” of “bitterness” and “lack of grace”.


16 thoughts on “Forgiveness is a Contract, Not a Coping Strategy

  1. I have heard that Forgiveness is giving up the right get to avenge the evil. As in revenge. Perhaps that is where the contract idea comes in. Both parties have to be willing.

    Jesus Christ had a condition or contract. Metanoia. Translated as Repentance.

    It is insanity to think forgiveness is one sided. I think this is the most bizarre and dangerous teaching in most churches. One should cut off all contact with evil people when justice cannot be exacted.

  2. You are spot on with your assessment: forgiveness by definition is not possible without the repentance of the offendER first.

    Having said that, there are several thoughts that come to mind because this is by no means a simple or trivial matter. There are complex dynamics that come into play when dealing with the matter of forgiveness.

    Maybe I should start with the easiest and most basic (note that “easy” in no way marginalizes those who have been deeply hurt by another). In my own study of the Bible, forgiveness is often mentioned in the context of a disagreement between brothers (the connotation being two people who have an existing close and emotionally intimate relationship). Most often it is addressing “petty” issues that result in hurt feelings. In such cases there is a responsibility of BOTH parties: the offendED is required to inform the offendER of the offense; the offendER has a responsibility to repent and ASK forgiveness. The goal is a restoration of fellowship, a healing of the wounded relationship.

    The one who has been offendED THEN has a responsibility to forgive AFTER the offender has sought out forgiveness and demonstrated repentance. (I define “repentance” as having a change of mind about something. This comes from the Greek word “metanoeo” which literally means “after mind”)

    I might point out with all certainty that the Bible in no way EVER suggests that someone offer “carte blanche” forgiveness without repentance, even though this is en vogue among evangelicals (read Augustinian/Reformed/Calvinist). On the contrary, if someone does not repent of their offence, then they are to be TREATED AS an enemy. I find this interesting because Jesus taught that we are to LOVE our enemies.

    Clearly there then must be a distinction between love and forgiveness. Forgiveness means to erase a debt that is owed. Love means to treat another individual as we would want to be treated. Love is a recognition of mutual value. While I am not required to forgive someone who has not repented, I can still love them. I can still recognize their value as an individual and treat them accordingly. This is after all what God does. Before a man is saved he is God’s enemy, but God still LOVES him and made a way for man to be reconciled to God. But man cannot be RECONCILED to God, and God cannot forgive him, UNTIL man repents.

    Loving our enemies also has an added benefit. It can provoke the conscience of the offendER resulting in guilt. When an offendER is the recipient of love from the one he has hurt (rather that what he intuitively KNOWS he should get) the resulting guilt can ultimately lead the offendER to seek out forgiveness from the one he has hurt and thus have the relationship restored. This of course assumes that the offendER still has an intact and functioning conscience.

    Of course this also assumes we are dealing with personal issues of the milder sort. I understand that things become more complicated when we are talking about issues where a CRIME has been committed. Hypothetically speaking, I know I would have a very hard time loving someone if they had molested any of my children. (Furthermore, one has to wonder whether someone who could perpetrate such an act even has a conscience to begin with.)

    This is where we need to balance forgiveness and love with justice. God is a God of love, yes, but He is also a God of justice. He made man in His image and thus values the individual and regards with great disdain any violation of man. A repentant heart may indeed have forgiveness, but that does not necessarily eliminate consequences. A man on death row for murder may in fact become a born again believer and escape eternal CONDEMNATION, but that doesn’t mean he escapes the CONSEQUENCES of his actions in the here and now.

    And sometimes to an offendER, even though he MIGHT repent and seek forgiveness, those consequences might mean that there can NEVER again be a restored relationship with the one he has offended!

  3. Thanks, Andy, for your thoughtful response. I need to re-read it fully when I have some down time, but wanted to extend a great thanks for your time and contribution!

  4. My pleasure, Argo. One other thought occurred to me with regard to this paragraph I wrote:
    “Loving our enemies also has an added benefit. It can provoke the conscience of the offendER resulting in guilt. When an offendER is the recipient of love from the one he has hurt (rather that what he intuitively KNOWS he should get) the resulting guilt can ultimately lead the offendER to seek out forgiveness from the one he has hurt and thus have the relationship restored. This of course assumes that the offendER still has an intact and functioning conscience.”

    If one offers “carte blanche” forgiveness WITHOUT the prior requirement of repentance, you have effectively circumvented the “guilt” mechanism built into one’s conscience that should ideally provoke the offening party to repentance. To my mind, this is the antithesis of love because you have not enabled the means for one to be accountable for his actions.

  5. Thanks. As I re-read your article, your point about forgiveness being analogous to a contract really resonated. It is an excellent comparison!

  6. Thanks. It just sort of hit me as I was pondering what was the root of the rational failure of the argument from forgiveness absent the repentance of the wrongdoer.

  7. EXACTLY, Argo, on all points! Forgiveness, as it is usually described, is not possible!

    The typical convoluted understanding makes zero sense. No love of truth, of freedom or of human beings is involved.

  8. Hey, Argo, been meaning to say for months: I often reread this post of yours, and the comments – it’s always amazed me to know, not just that there are other people whose thinking on this subject mirrors my own, and that I may in fact not be a unicorn…but also how like-minded the small group here is.

    I hear a lot of awful things, sometimes to my face – my refusal to “forgive” 100% unrepentant villains and “realize why” things were done, is the “bad part” of me, and my “darkness,” ya know. I should understand that “everything happens for a reason” – so the abusers should be “forgiven” because they were doing what they were “supposed to” do, what was needed!

    “Everything happens for a reason” alone is an idea that agrees with, validates, congratulates the criminal…the oppressor, the rapist, the villain. It attempts to justify and defend- Right. I could go on and on.

    Posts like this one (and the comments) are an oasis for Oasis. To have all of these points put to words is so helpful and edifying. Thank you (all of ya, if you see this)!

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