Notes on Forgiveness

A little while ago, someone asked me for some thoughts on forgiveness.  The result seemed worth sharing.

There’s nothing wrong with revenge.  God has so made the world that revenge is a necessary and important part of the moral universe.  But GOD takes revenge, and we don’t.  Forgiveness is letting go of vengeance and giving it over to God. (Rom. 12)

A common explanation of forgiveness is “not bringing it up again.”  Having forgiven a person, I should not go back and club him with his sin against me — thus far, no problem.  But the ability to bring it up again without re-experiencing the hurt is an important test of healing.  In relationships, people talk about the past, and having a big “don’t touch this topic” area in the past is a sign that healing is not complete.

Sometimes healing is not complete because God simply hasn’t yet brought it about.  But sometimes healing is not complete because the sin is not forgiven, and the wound is still festering.

The Triune God is all about relationships.  Human relationships are meant to be a portrait of intra-trinitarian relationships.  A broken relationship is an offense to God because it breaks His law.  But deeper than that, it is an offense to God because it is a lie about Him; it paints a false picture of the intra-trinitarian relationships.

When people break relationships, God responds in grace and wrath.  Both.  God calls His people to be His image in this as well.

A broken relationship creates a cycle of alienation and bitterness.  Restoring relationships is about breaking the cycle of alienation and bitterness.

Forgiveness helps break the cycle by not feeding it.  This is an image of God’s grace. If you are not alienated and bitter, that’s a big step in the right direction.

Another part of breaking the cycle can be hedging against a repeated offense.  A young woman may forgive the guy who date-raped her, but that doesn’t mean she has to go on another date with him.  There is a difference between seeking revenge and refusing to put yourself in an exposed position again.   There are long-term consequences to sin; this is part of imaging God’s wrath.

The relationship cannot really be mended without genuine repentance on the offender’s part.  Sometimes there’s nothing to do but wait for it.

Another part of imaging God’s wrath is imprecatory prayer and involving the appropriate church, familial, or civil authorities.  While these things certainly can be motivated by revenge, they are all compatible with forgiveness.

God’s wrath and its this-worldly images and agents are means for inducing repentance.  Imprecatory prayer is prayer for rough grace, that the offender might repent and the relationship might be restored–or at least that God will graciously prevent him from repeating the offense.


5 Responses to Notes on Forgiveness

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    Miroslav Volf has done some good work in this area. Although I’m not totally on the same page with his Lutheran theology, he does manage to capture the subtle distinctions Tim has pointed out. The two books I would recommend are Forgiveness and Embrace and Free of Charge.

  2. Jim Reitman says:

    Actually, the title of the first book is Exclusion and Embrace. My bad.

  3. Tim Nichols says:

    Thanks for this. I’d heard of Exclusion and Embrace, but I’ve not read it.

  4. I appreciated this article, thanks Tim. I have been looking alot at forgiveness of sins, at my blog currently too.


  5. Tim Nichols says:


    You’re more than welcome. Drop by anytime.

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