‘How to forgive someone who isn’t sorry’


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How to forgive someone who isn’t sorry

Part of our series on America’s struggle for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is often viewed as the “happily ever after” ending in a story of wrongdoing or injustice. Someone enacts harm, the typical arc goes, but eventually sees the error of their ways and offers a heartfelt apology. “Can you ever forgive me?” Then you, the hurt person, are faced with a choice: Show them mercy — granting yourself peace in the process — or hold a grudge forever. …

It’s reasonable to expect an apology when you’re the one who has been hurt or betrayed. But that’s not how it works in practice. In fact, therapist Harriet Lerner writes in her book Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts, the worse the offense, the more difficult it can be to get an apology from the person who harmed you. In those instances, Lerner writes, “Their shame leads to denial and self-deception that overrides their ability to orient toward reality.” And beyond this, there are other reasons you might be unable to get the apology you deserve. Maybe the other person isn’t aware of the harm they did to you, or they’ve disappeared, making contact impossible, or they’ve died.

Unfortunately, that puts you in a tough spot. How do you forgive someone who isn’t all that sorry, or who you can’t actually engage with?

To answer this question, Vox spoke to two experts: Robert Enright, a professor of education psychology at the University of Wisconsin Madison and a leader in the scientific study of forgiveness, and Laura Davis, the author of several books about estrangement and reconciliation, … Enright and Davis say that forgiving someone who is unrepentant is absolutely possible; here’s how to approach it.

Expand your view of what forgiveness is

In some ways, it’s easier to define forgiveness by what it isn’t. “Forgiveness is not excusing what the other did; that behavior was wrong, is wrong, and will always be wrong,” Enright says.

Both Enright and Davis say that forgiveness exists separately from reconciliation, and also from accountability — which is why forgiving someone doesn’t require an apology or even their participation. “Reconciliation is a negotiation strategy between two or more people trying to make their way back together to mutual trust,” explains Enright, whereas forgiveness is a one-way endeavor. Put another way: Forgiveness might be a step on the path to reconciliation, but you don’t have to traverse the full route if you’d prefer not to.

Enright also points out that while forgiveness is separate from accountability, it’s not at odds with seeking justice. “Many people think it’s either/or, rather than both,” he says. Forgiving someone can help you take a more clear-eyed approach to justice because you’re no longer, as he put it, “seething with rage.”

Perhaps most importantly, forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend the hurt didn’t happen, to forgive and forget, or to ever speak to the person again. “When you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean you have to have any kind of ongoing relationship with them,” Davis says. “It’s an internal shift, where you’re no longer carrying the wound in the same way.”

Enright defines forgiveness as a moral virtue. Moral virtues (like kindness, honesty, and patience) are typically focused on how they benefit others; these are things you do primarily for another person’s sake, regardless of whether or not they have “earned” it.

“Forgiveness is a special kind of moral virtue that always and without exception occurs when the other person has been unfair to you,” Enright says. …

“Forgiveness is my safety valve against the kind of toxic anger that could kill me,” Enright says. “Waiting for the apology is to misunderstand your free will, and it’s to misunderstand the medicine that is forgiveness, that you should be able to take freely, whatever you want.” …

Enright says it’s reasonable to want to tend to your anger when someone has hurt you. “You can hang on to anger for a short time because it shows you’re a person of worth and dignity, and no one should treat you this way,” he says. “But then my question would be, if you hang on to that anger, what is it doing to you? Yes, it will empower you for a while. But characteristically over time, it brings us down with fatigue, rumination, becoming far more pessimistic in life.” 03/25/22 https://www.vox.com/22967752/how-to-forgive-someone-who-isnt-sorry-wont-apologize

Yes, it is good for us to be merciful and forgiving:

17 The merciful man does good for his own soul,
But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.  (Proverbs 11:17)

In Matthew 18:7, Jesus said “offenses must come” so we should expect to be offended.

As far as forgiving someone who has not repented, Jesus prayed:

29 … “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:29)

Remember that the Apostle Paul taught we were to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Our God is most merciful:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.  (Psalm 103:8)

Mercy mirrors God’s very character. God is truly a forgiving Father. We have to be His merciful and forgiving children.

Perhaps it should be mentioned that the NKJV Bible has the word mercy 282 times, mercies 38 times, merciful 39 times, forgive 53 times, forgivers twice, forgiving 4 times, and forgiveness 8 times. So a total of 426 times. Mer99cy and forgiveness are important to God and He wants you to know that, which is why His word teaches about them.

Now let’s look at some scriptural quotes related to what Jesus, Paul, Peter, and James taught related to mercy and forgiveness

First from Jesus:

35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

4 … God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us (Ephesians 2:4)

Notice that love and mercy are tied together. If you want to develop love towards others as the Bible teaches, you need to be merciful.

Jesus also taught:

7 Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Notice that this promise does not teach that the unmerciful will obtain mercy.

Since, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we all need mercy.

Jesus also taught:

23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. (Matthew 23:23, New Living Translation)

Mercy is important and many people who think they are worshipping God have wrong priorities.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Colossians:

9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. (Colossians 1:9-12)

Being longsuffering includes being able to forgive trespasses against us.  Paul also told the Collossians:

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Yes, love and forgive. Yet many, including Christians, do not seem to want to forgive and let go.

The Apostle Peter taught:

5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Yes, we need self-control. The Bible says:

19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

It is good for us to forgive. We need to forgive and trust God to right most wrongs.

And God will judge.

But God also is merciful. We all need to be grateful that:

13 Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Christians need to exercise the fruits of the Spirit and be more like God (Matthew 5:48; 1 Corinthians 11:1). And God has much more mercy, patience, and forgiveness than most seem to realize.

UPDATE 04/06/22: The Continuing Church of God (CCOG) put out the following video on our Bible News Prophecy YouTube channel:


We have all been hurt or offended by someone. As Christians, we know we are supposed to forgive. But what about forgiving someone who is not sorry? In this message, Dr. Thiel goes over ideas about forgiving the unrepentant from secular writers Harriet Lerner, Robert Enright, and Laura Davis. He then quotes the Apostle Paul and some passages in the Book of Proverbs. Dr. Thiel further quotes Jesus, the Apostle Peter, the Apostle James, and more from the Apostle Paul explaining why it is good for your well being to forgive and show mercy even to those who do not apologize to you. Mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law that Christians are to have.

Here is a link to our sermonette video: Mercy and Forgiving Someone Who is NOT Sorry.

That being said, God has a plan. And do not think that people are “getting away with” poor behavior. Notice something that the Apostle Paul was inspired to write:

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.  (Galatians 6:7-10)

Doing good to all, including the household of faith, includes forgiving those you feel have offended you.

Consider also that all will be judged:

17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

18 Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.  (1 Peter 4:17-19)

All will be judged.

Don’t be puffed up:

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Show love and forgive.

Consider also that you have almost certainly offended people you have not apologized to. Jesus said:

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)

To be a true Christian, we need to be forgiven as well as forgive.

32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  (Ephesians 4:32)

Our God is a merciful God.

Christians are to be merciful people.

It is because our God is a merciful God that He has a plan to make eternity better for all of us, as well as those who offended us.

And in the future, all who will accept God’s ways will make our eternity better.

Do your part now by forgiving and being merciful.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

The MYSTERY of GOD’s PLAN: Why Did God Create Anything? Why Did God Make You? This free online book helps answers some of the biggest questions that human have, including the biblical meaning of life. Here is a link to three related sermons: Mysteries of God’s Plan, Mysteries of Truth, Sin, Rest, Suffering, and God’s Plan, Mystery of Race, and The Mystery of YOU. Here is a link to two videos in Spanish: El Misterio del Plan de Dios and El Misterio de Satanás, el Misterio de la Verdad, el Misterio del Reposo.
Universal OFFER of Salvation, Apokatastasis: Can God save the lost in an age to come? Hundreds of scriptures reveal God’s plan of salvation Will all get a fair chance at salvation? This free book is packed with scriptures showing that God does intend to offer salvation to all who ever lived–the elect in this age, and the rest in the age to come. Here is a link to a related sermon series: Universal Offer of Salvation 1: Apocatastasis, Universal Offer of Salvation 2: Jesus Desires All to be Saved, Mysteries of the Great White Throne Judgment (Universal Offer of Salvation part 3), Is God Fair, Will God Pardon the Ignorant?, Can God Save Your Relatives?, Babies, Limbo, Purgatory and God’s Plan, and ‘By the Mouth of All His Holy Prophets’.

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