What is forgiveness?


Well-Known Member
Apologies and forgiveness are difficult for everyone, I think. I have been thinking about both for quite some time and hoping that understanding them would help me not get hooked up. I think I understand what they mean to me, and the value of apologies and forgiveness and moving on. Where I get hooked up is in when there are no apologies. I wonder what others think and how they deal with it.

I understand that only a person who has offended can offer an apology. ie: I can not apologize for M's behavior, only he can. An apology doesn't guarantee forgiveness, only a victim can offer forgiveness. And God, I suppose. And I suppose you can feel forgiveness regardless of whether someone has apologized.

I think I believe that forgiveness wipes the slate clean, in a way that starts things over at the beginning. It isn't a blindfold, though. I mean, I forgive M for being so awful to us, because I think that there are a lot of reasons that he can't make better decisions. That doesn't mean that I trust that there can ever be a happy relationship with us. Forgiveness and trust are two different things.

But what about people who don't want our forgiveness? Someone who hurt you knowing full well that they were hurting you, and in a way that they would never hurt someone they actually cared about. What if they say "I will never apologize because I don't care about having hurt you and I would do it again to get what I want"? If you have no choice but to interact with them from time to time and put a good face on it, do you forgive them? If so, why?

I can't figure out the meaning of or reason for forgiveness in this. I get that you move on and you make the best of the time that you have to spend together. So, do you forgive the person who set out to hurt you and would do it again without a thought for you? And if you do, what's the benefit? It's not peace, because you still fear them, and they will hurt you again, given the chance. You already know that you're the better person because you would never harm someone like that, whether you cared about them or not.

I have to be honest and say I don't know that I can easily change my opinion about this. It's taken me a long time to get where I already am with apologies and forgiveness, and I feel that it's a healthy approach. But if someone hurt you and the best you can do is move on because there is no doubt they will make a conscious choice to hurt you again, how does forgiveness help? Or does it?

Hound dog

Nana's are Beautiful
So, do you forgive the person who set out to hurt you and would do it again without a thought for you? And if you do, what's the benefit?

Witz I've been a victim. I call it "letting go", not forgiveness. I simply let go of the emotions because all they were doing for me was continuing the misery.

I've always had trouble with the whole forgiveness thing for a deliberate act to harm another person, knowing full well what you're doing. (and in my case that's what it was every time)

But I can let go of the pain, anger, betrayal and such so that it doesn't distroy the person I am.

Does that make sense?


Well-Known Member
I think that is the difference. Some of us can let go of the emotions. Some can not.

I can. My sister can not. She would stress until the day she dies about an argument with someone. She may keep it inside and try not to let them hurt her again, but it will bother her forever.

Me, I just figure no loss and move on. Not wrong, just different.


New Member
That is the best take I have ever heard on this subject. My fiancee is having a difficult time with something close to this as well and struggling with the concepts as well. My best wishes to you and remember:

"People come into our lives for a reason and they leave our lives when their task is complete. Some are here for only a short while, while others are here for the rest of our lives."


Well-Known Member
Witz I've been a victim. I call it "letting go", not forgiveness. I simply let go of the emotions because all they were doing for me was continuing the misery.

I'm good with letting go. I let go of many things with this person, otherwise I would spend my life in misery hating him. But I also won't let my guard down with this particular person when I have no choice but to deal with him.

I guess my questions is, it's not the same as forgiving, is it?


I'm of a like mind with Lisa. To me, forgiveness is letting go of all of the negative emotions associated with the offensive act.
Forgiveness is not about the person who offended; it's about the victim. It's not about making the perpetrator feel better and they don't have to want forgiveness in order for the victim to want to forgive. And sometimes it's about forgiving the act committed, not the person who committed it.

To me, it's about letting the victim let go and move on. I also think it's about peace and grace.
To me, forgiveness is something I do for myself. I release myself from the burden of anger and pain that comes with being wronged by somebody. It sets ME free. Harboring anger and resentments does nothing but eat away at me little by little. And it does nothing to the person that I am ticked at. They are not the ones losing sleep!

Forgiving is not always an action verb. I have forgiven an awful lot of people that don't even know that I forgave them. I don't have to call them and tell them, and they don't have to apologize in order for me to forgive.

It does NOT necessarily mean that I think what they did was OK. Forgiveness is not the same as mercy.

God does that :wink:


I don't think they are the same either. I've thought I have "let go" of a series of circumstances and forgiven, but the emotions are still there beneath the surface. Just the right setting/trigger will cause it to spill over and all the feelings of betrayal, injustice, the anger, etc., are fresh. So I know I haven't really forgiven, hard as I have tried.

I took the easy way, a google search definition(s):

compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive
the act of excusing a mistake or offense

Forgiveness has been described as a quality by which one ceases to feel resentment against another for a wrong he or she has committed against oneself. Forgiveness can be granted with or without the other asking for forgiveness. Some people also believe that persons can forgive themselves, that it is possible to forgive groups of people, or that it is possible to be forgiven by God.

a virtue, is forgiving, pardon of a fault, remission of a debt. To forgive means give up, cease to harbor resentment, wrath, to remit a debt, to give up resentment or claim to requital for, pardon an offense.

The act of granting pardon for or remission of (something)


Well-Known Member
Hmm... lots to think about. Sheila, those are interesting definitions. I, too, think that maybe the best I can get out of certain situations is to "let go" and move on. And hope to keep myself from allowing others who mean to harm me to set me off on a tangent. I mean, it's way too rewarding to them to let them make me angry.

I guess that for some people and some actions only God can forgive. But, if we believe that God does not forgive us if we don't repent, who are we to forgive those people who would continue to do us harm?


Active Member
I believe that forgiveness is an overly used phrase, applied broadly to a variety of situations, when it is really only able to apply to one. My definition of forgiveness is:

~~The act of eliminating ill feelings towards someone whom you still want in your life. In doing such you are able to empathize, and understand why the offender made their error, and thus forgive them.~~ (I will be submitting this to Websters soon :crazy2: )

But if someone hurt you and the best you can do is move on because there is no doubt they will make a conscious choice to hurt you again, how does forgiveness help? Or does it?

In this situation you are describing I believe there is no such thing as forgiveness. My verb of choice would be acceptance. Accepting the offender's acts as ones that happened, but ones that I will no longer be hurt over. However, I retain the right in these situations to never see that person again - or if I have to interact with them, I make sure my teflon shield is on, and anything that person says or does cannot affect me.

I do not believe "forgiving" these people helps, or is applicable, because they do not fall under my definition of forgiveness. But I do believe in acceptance, and consequently a sense of peace unfolds around the situation, and I am able to move on.


Well-Known Member
WW, I like that, too. I think that to forgive, in some way you have to understand what it was that the person did. And you have to want some sort of relationship with them.


Well-Known Member
Lisa, I really like your distinction between letting go and forgiveness.

Unlike the dictionary definition quoted above, I think forgiveness implies a moral component.

Great thread! Thank you all.


New Member
I was a victum from the age of 3 - 11 of sexual abuse. I never forgave the man who victumized me. When he got out of prison he called me to ask for my forgiveness. I told him never to call me again, then I threw the phone through the wall....

He died in his car on the side of the road of a heart attack a few you later.

I never forgave him, I just let it go. Him wanting my forgiveness was a slap in the face to me. It was like he wanted me to say, its okay that he did what you did to me. When in fact it was not okay, nothing okay about it. But I don't dwel on it, I still trust people, and I hardly ever think about.

I battled my deamons and won the war one battle at a time. I'm over it. I'm glad I never told him I forgave him.
God forgives everybody.

If a person decides not to forgive someone (decides that they do not deserve forgiveness), does that person believe that they have better judgement than God?

Forgiving someone is NOT saying that what they did is OK. It is relieving oneself of the burden of harboring resentment and hate. And it is for the victim, not the offender.


Well-Known Member
Right, so what's the point of the offender wanting forgiveness from the person he hurt?
Just wondering ...


Active Member
Witz, you said, "I'm good with letting go. I let go of many things with this person, otherwise I would spend my life in misery hating him. But I also won't let my guard down with this particular person when I have no choice but to deal with him.

I guess my questions is, it's not the same as forgiving, is it?"

Actually, I think it is. As others here have said, forgiveness is more about the person forgiving, than the person who has caused harm. It makes no difference if the person who caused harm is sorry or not, or knows about it or not. You can forgive someone in absentia.

Forgiveness does not mean you have forgotten, or you trust them again, or there is no need for restitution. We may forgive a debt, which means we no longer hold the person accountable for the money they owe, but that is a highly specific meaning. I do not think it fully applies to those who have been hurt. A more correct description is to say a debt has been remitted, which means it is now considered as being paid in full. A person serving time in jail can have their sentence remitted - it doesn't mean they were never guilty, it just means the law now considers that sentence has been served. Forgiveness is an entirely separate thing.

If you can forgive, it is easier on you. It makes it easier to move on and not let the pain keep you holding on to your resentment and anger. But you can't force forgiveness - it has to be something you're ready for.

I have a friend who is very resentful of her family, especially her mother. Whenever she talks to me, this friend will go on and on talking about the same old things, never moving on from her pain from the past. I used to try and help her see that she needs to move on to develop her own life, free from the chains of the past. but she just doesn't seem to be able to (or maybe to want to?). It's like she has to hold on to her resentment and keep it burning white hot in order to feel alive and justified. She's a tub-thumping fundamentalist who would be appalled if I accused her of holding onto resentment; she would insist she has forgiven her mother, but she has not. No way. While ever she is bearing these resentments, letting them influence her communication with hr family, always bringing up her past hurts and her distress over it, she has not forgiven.
What I have tried to urge her to do is let it go and move on, leave the past in the past although to always guard against being hurt in the future. Forgiving doesn't mean letting your guard down.
Will she ever be ready to forgive? I really don't know. I think a big part of her problems is that she believes that to forgive, she has to also say that what they did to her was OK, and it can never be OK.

Forgiveness can't be forced on you. You can't force it on yourself. You have to be ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness also doesn't mean that any judgement outcomes can then be abandoned - a woman whose husband has beaten her up in a drug-induced rage may forgive him, especially if he is now contrite, has voluntarily entered rehab and is a changed person. But she can't get him out of jail until he is deemed to have served his time. She may also choose to move on with her life, leaving him and the past to develop herself in a different direction. That is her prerogative. It doesn't mean she hasn't forgiven him.

My friend's first husband tried to kill her repeatedly, while suffering from a number of psychotic episodes. She stuck with him for years while he went in and out of hospital, stable on medications then refusing to take them. She finally divorced him and remarried.
Her second husband molested her children. At first, when it came out, she tried to save her marriage even if it meant losing her children, then she realised how she wasn't thinking clearly (due to his brainwashing).
She is now happily married, for the third time. her first husband is a close friend and had been forgiven years earlier. But she didn't remarry him - they had both moved on. First husband and his new wife were honoured guests at her third wedding. Second husband - never mentioned, I don't think she has forgiven him. Maybe in time, even though he's still molesting others, she's sure. As long as she can forgive what he did to her - she can't forgive on behalf of her daughter.

Steve Irwin's family forgave the stingray. His injury was not an attack, it was an accident borne of the stingray's fear and its natural reaction. Does that mean that people can swim with stingrays with no caution? Of course not.

In Perth (Australia) on Monday, a 2 week old baby was mauled to death by the family dog. There has been a lot of discussion over here since then, of the need to ensure your dog isn't treated as the leader of the pack in the house all its life and then pushed aside in family affections when a new baby comes home - there are ways to prevent this sort of problem, the advice is now thoroughly out in the community and families with impending births are now putting these precautions in place. Whether the family have forgiven the dog - I don't know, but the dog still had to be destroyed. It has killed a human life and can never be rehabilitated, seems to be the belief that authorities are working on. With the benefit of hindsight there is understanding of why this happened; it can never make it OK, though.

Forgiveness doesn't need to be communicated to the person being forgiven. Sometimes telling someone you forgive them, even if they're not sorry at all, can dump on them an effective guilt load. You would need to be sure you're not telling them of your forgiveness, just to make them feel bad and hopefully trigger an apology.

Sometimes in the middle of a tantrum, difficult child 3 has said, "I hate you!"
I have responded with, "That's a pity, because I happen to love you. I don't love the tantrum, but I do love you."
I do not need him to apologise or even to calm down, for me to forgive him. And sometimes when he DOES calm down, he comes to me and apologises. And I had already forgiven him.

In Australia's history a lot of harm was done, irreparably, by the Europeans, to the Aboriginal people. Entire tribes were wiped out. People were poisoned, shot, killed by disease and famine. They were rounded up en masse and moved onto missions where they were denied access to their culture and language. It was all done in the name of "It's good for them." Children were routinely removed from their mothers, if the children had any "white blood" in them. Even if the mother did too. This has been happening as recently as the 1950s and 1960s. Some claim it is still happening, although not in any routine, organised way as it used to.
The Aboriginal people of Australia want an apology. "Sorry" books were distributed around the country and ordinary citizens have signed them as they choose to. We say sorry not because we were personally culpable, nor even can we find evidence of any of our direct ancestors being personally responsible; but we sign the book to show we are appalled at what happened and we express regret.
Our Prime Minister has consistently refused to say sorry. He says it's because he was never personally responsible - but we all know that. Other politicians are saying, "I'm sorry this happened to you," which is all the Aboriginal nations want. Our government is perhaps afraid that this would open up a claim for financial restitution, but it's way beyond t he possibility of that. This is simply about helping people move on and begin to be able to forgive.
You may have seen at the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, a band called Midnight Oil performing. They each wore black t-shirts with the word "Sorry" in the shirt. Their lead singer is now in parliament.

You can have contrition without guilt, although it's unusual. You can forgive without the other person knowing or being contrite. Forgiveness is about the person wronged, and how they are dealing with what was done to them. They may never trust that person again, but they have chosen to move on.

God has already forgiven us. He has already remitted any sentences. But if we choose to keep ourselves in prison, it's OUR responsibility. We are the ones then clinging to our past and bearing grudges, not God.