Q. I see in your discussion of forgiveness that a person does not have to repent for us to forgive them. But in the case of us and God, we must repent to receive forgiveness. Why is this not the same? How can the person receive forgiveness from another if they don’t think they have done anything wrong or allow pride to keep them from asking for it. I have a couple of people in my life that continually hurt me in horrible ways, and I have as little contact with them as possible, but I cannot eliminate them completely. They are not sorry, they do not repent, how can I possibly forgive them?
A. We are not commanded to forgive others because they deserve it or even because they have asked for it, but because we have been forgiven. It’s one of the ways we express our gratitude to God for forgiving us. In Matt. 18:33 the master said, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” The other person’s behavior is irrelevant. The idea here is that since God has forgiven us for everything, we should be willing to forgive each other in response. Things are different for God. He did not need to be forgiven and has no need to express his gratitude to anyone. He’s not repaying a favor, He’s granting one.
Also, the level of forgiveness I call Fellowship is what keeps us in God’s favor here on Earth. It’s contingent upon forgiving others. That’s why believers, who have been forgiven in the eternal sense and have an unbreakable Union with God, are told to pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4) Forgiving people who wrong us helps keep us in Fellowship with God. Failure to do so can leave us open to torment (Matt. 18:34-35).
In Matt. 18:17 Jesus said that if you’re not able to persuade someone that they’ve wronged you, you’re free to treat them like you’d treat an unbeliever. To me that means to have no further contact. But we’re still required to forgiven them.
As you can see, the concept of forgiveness is twofold. One is to avoid the sin of unforgiveness and the other to free ourselves from the hurt we feel. We accomplish the first by asking the Lord to forgive us for being angry, and the second by forgiving the one who hurt us. Neither of these require the other person’s involvement. Both are entirely under our own control.