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Forgiveness Myths

If you've ever been on the receiving end of abuse or malice, you know that forgiveness is not simply saying "I forgive X for what they did to me," and pretending it never happened. Sadly, this is the view of forgiveness many people have, and propagate.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate® Dictionary definition: forgive (verb.)

  1. to give up resentment of or claim to requital for (forgive an insult)
  2. to grant relief from payment of (forgive a debt)
  3. to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)

My top myths about forgiveness are:


Myth: Forgiveness is always easy

People who have been abused know this myth for what it is. Forgiveness is so much more than saying the words "I forgive." Anyone can say the words and sound sincere, it's only words. When you bear the consequences of someone's sin against you, it is hard work. You have to refuse to give in to resentment and bitterness, and commit to leave the revenge in God's hands, not your own.

If I borrowed a pencil from you and lost it, you would probably find it easy to forgive me. What I did has not caused you lasting physical, emotional or mental harm. You won't even remember the lost pencil a week from now. But if I'd lost control of my car and hit you, and you wound up paralysed from the waist down, forgiving me would be a lot harder. I have done something that affects your whole life, something that cannot be reversed.

Forgiveness is always difficult and often illogical, but it's the only remedy God offers to heal our hearts.

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

Anyone can say the words "I forgive." It is harder to really forgive someone from the heart, to genuinely place your desire for vengeance in Gods' hands, to let go of the anger and the resentment against the offender.

Myth: Forgiveness requires rebuilding the relationship

Forgiveness is a long way in the dictionary, and in life, from reconciliation.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate® Dictionary definition:
reconcile (verb.)

  1. to restore to friendship or harmony
  2. to make consistent or congruous
  3. to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant
  4. to check (a financial account) against another for accuracy

How do you restore friendship or harmony with someone who refuses to accept they wronged you? In a relationship where one person won't accept they wronged the other, you cannot have harmony because of this basic disagreement. Friends don't have to agree on everything, but behaviour matters. If you know your friend thinks they did nothing wrong in spreading something you told them in confidence, they will do it again. And you won't want to risk telling them your secrets again.

Forgiveness depends upon me; reconciliation depends upon us.

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

If one part of the us won't acknowledge they hurt the other, you cannot have a relationship. You can forgive, but you don't have to be friends with them again. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate things. One does not imply or require the other.

While God requires me to unconditionally forgive the business partner who cheats me, He does not require I stay in business with him. I can forgive someone without being reunited with that person. But ... if we want to build a broken relationship (with other people or with God), repentance is necessary.

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

Myth: Forgiveness means forgetting what happened

The human mind is an amazing piece of engineering, but it does not have the ability to forget at will. It's like trying not to think about elephants, the first thing that pops into your mind is a big grey mammal with tusks and a trunk.

Psalm 32:1-2

Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Revelations 20:12 mentions books containing all our deeds, as does Paul:

1 Corinthians 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.

I believe God does not forget our sins, but instead, sees them as a debt, marked "Paid in Full." Christ has paid the price for all our sins.

Forgiveness is not denying the reality of our pain. To ask someone to simply forget a wrong is like asking a person who has lost both arms to pass the ketchup. He can't do it!

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

Myth: Forgiveness requires release from consequences

Suppose I've just stolen $1000 from you. I come to you and say:

"I sincerely repent of my actions, I will never do it again, please forgive me."

Do I get to keep the $1000 because I apologised? What is my repentance worth if I keep the money? If I don't return what I stole, my supposed repentance is hollow and meaningless, I have no intention to turn from my previous behaviour.

When Zacchaeus repented of stealing from Jews by inflating their taxes, he offered to pay it back.

Luke 19:8-9

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount"

Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost."

People can be forgiven, and still go to prison for their crime. They face the consequences of breaking the law of the land. The law demands punishment and restitution, it does not forgive. But the victim of the crime may forgive the offender.

Myth: If they don't repent, I should not forgive

If someone stole from you and did not repent, they would not remain your friend. But should you forgive them? You certainly couldn't restore the relationship, but you can forgive.

While repentance and remorse are necessary to receive forgiveness, they are not prerequisites for granting forgiveness.

"When Forgiveness Doesn't Make Sense" by Robert Jeffress

Repentance is necessary to receive God's forgiveness and restore our relationship with him. It's also necessary for reconciliation with your offender. But repentance is not necessary to grant forgiveness. Whether you tell the offender you have forgiven them is another matter, and I don't have the answer on that one.

Forgiveness cuts the emotional rope tying us to the offender. We release them from the debt they owe, and can move on with our lives.

Letting go of a rattlesnake might help the snake, but it benefits you as well.


You are not likely to hear the person who jumped in front of you at the grocery store line repent. You can forgive, and move on, though you could move to another line.

Copyright © 2000 Alison Hawke