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I’ll Forgive When I Feel Like Forgiving

Rusty - November 1, 2005

A hypothetical:

Crusty and Cliff are friends. Crusty says something mean about Cliff. Cliff feels hurt and betrayed. Crusty feels terrible for having said it. Crusty wants to apologize but Cliff needs more time.

One of the most difficult teachings of Christ is that we need to forgive all men. He doesn’t ever say “forgive only those who show remorse.” or “forgive all men, except those who raped your wife.” or any other conditional statement. There’s not much gray area in this commandment as it’s very clear which people we are to forgive (all of them).

However, what Christ does NOT do is give us a timetable by which we need to do the forgiving. Sure there are examples of those who quickly forgave, but the importance of doing so is never explicitly emphasized in scripture. Does this mean we can take our time, that it’s okay to hold out forgiveness until our pain has subsided? (is that even forgiveness at that point if there’s no pain?)

In one of his most brilliant teaching moments, CS Lewis says this:

When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.

In other words, forgiveness should be immediate. Not because that’s what God wants us to do, but because that’s how God wants us to be (like him, a being who forgives immediately). He is in the business of changing his children into gods, not getting them to do the things that gods do.

Of course, this is easier said than being.


  1. I have a few questions, what does it really mean to forgive? Does God forgive everyone? D&C 64:10 says God will forgive whom he will forgive, it doesn’t say he forgives everyone. In D&C 98 it tells us if a person “trespasses” against us 4 times “thou shalt not forgive him”. And what about God’s vengence, how does that work into forgiveness?

    Comment by Don — November 1, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

  2. My understanding of the roots of the term “forgive” (in English, at least) is to “refuse” (for-) to give — ostensibly, to refuse to resort to an eye-for-an-eye.

    But I’ve always liked my personal (folk) etymology… when I see “forgive”, I see “foregive” … to give in advance… and in my mind, the admonition to foregive is an admonition to make space in our hearts for the wrongs we will (necessarily) suffer.

    From that perspective, _we_ must forgive immediately (to live-up to the spirit of “foregiveness”.

    Comment by Silus Grok — November 1, 2005 @ 8:45 pm

  3. OK,
    who’s Crusty and who’s Chris?

    Comment by Ronan — November 1, 2005 @ 8:46 pm

  4. I think that’s cRusty… I don’t know who Chris is.

    Comment by Silus Grok — November 1, 2005 @ 9:01 pm

  5. Don,

    The Lord only forgives those who repent. We must forgive all, whether one asks it of us or not.

    I believe the D&C 98 reference is more contextual. Try Matthew 18:21,22.

    Comment by Tim J. — November 1, 2005 @ 9:14 pm

  6. Really Rusty, if this is, as I suspect all about the T&S thread, I don’t know how telling them how they are supposed to feel will help. They’ll either forgive or they won’t (and, most likely, they will over time).

    Don is right to question what we even mean by the term. As recent discussions regarding sex offenders (to which I am NOT comparing anyone at BoH or T&S), forgiveness is a tricky thing to get right in serious violations. Perhaps it is moreso in smaller offenses, like the ones we are dealing with now.

    Comment by John C. — November 1, 2005 @ 9:25 pm

  7. Very good post.

    Comment by annegb — November 1, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

  8. John C.
    I suspected someone would make that assumption. That is not, however, what inspired this post. I think that whole bruhaha is past the forgiveness issue anyway. Now, like Julie said, it’s about trust.

    I don’t know where you got “Chris”. Are you talking about Cliff? I just used Crusty (a common nickname) and Cliff (short for Clifton). They don’t represent people. It’s a hypothetical, remember?

    Tim J,
    I agree with your reading of those scriptures.

    I like your folk etymology, though I don’t know if it will hold up in court. :)


    Comment by Rusty — November 1, 2005 @ 11:17 pm

  9. because that’s how God wants us to be (like him, a being who forgives immediately)

    Does God really forgive immediately? Or are there certain time periods involved sometimes, e.g. when fornication has been committed, one must abstain from taking the sacrament for a period of time. Does that mean the forgiveness is delayed until that period has been successfully waited out, or did the forgiveness come immediately and the period is just some extra trapping that un-inspired church leaders arbitrarily imposed on the process (I know the last part of that question sounds like I am sneaking premises in by the way I phrased it but I am not being disingenuous–I mean that question seriously).

    Comment by john fowles — November 1, 2005 @ 11:48 pm

  10. John,
    You ask a really good question. Maybe I should have phrased it “…a being who has the capacity to forgive immediately.” That way God decides when to forgive. The one thing I feel pretty certain of, however, is that God doesn’t struggle to forgive, that if we repent, he forgives.

    That of course brings up an interesting issue question: does God forgive only those who repent? And if so, it’s not fair that we have to forgive unrepentant persons while he only has to forgive repentant ones. Hmmm… Any thoughs?

    Comment by Rusty — November 1, 2005 @ 11:59 pm

  11. it’s not fair that we have to forgive unrepentant persons while he only has to forgive repentant ones.

    If that is what God expects (commands) then I don’t see how it is unfair.

    But everything seems unfair to us in this mortal state. Unfairness permeates every minute of every day of this stage of our existence. X has more money than Y; Y is more beautiful than Z; Z is smarter than A; A has more money, is more beautiful, and is smarter than X,Y,&Z put together; B is a starving, abused child in a sex-shop in Thailand.

    If you have an answer to this, then move over Jesus and Buddha, Rusty is here.

    Comment by john fowles — November 2, 2005 @ 12:09 am

  12. John,
    I say that half tongue-in-cheek. What I’m expressing is that it sounds like God expects more from us that He himself is willing to give. Forgiving someone who is remorseful is easier than forgiving someone who continues the offense.

    Comment by Rusty — November 2, 2005 @ 12:24 am

  13. I think the difference is that when we forgive, nothing happens. When God forgives, people are washed clean.

    God can’t forgive everyone, otherwise everyone would get into heaven, and the law would be null.

    I’ve always viewed the commandment for us to forgive everyone as more for our benefit. Kind of like the Maupassant story, “A Piece of String.” If we hold on to our hurts, it ends up warping us. That being said, I think there are some things that just can’t be forgiven by human beings and we shouldn’t feel too guilty about that. God will forgive us. Ha!

    Comment by NFlanders — November 2, 2005 @ 1:44 am

  14. Rusty, great post.

    Flanders, I was agreeing strongly with everything you said up till the last line. I think we can and are morally obligated to forgive everything. What’s an example of something that “just can’t be forgiven by human beings”?

    Which leads me to another point sparked by Flanders very last line. Are we sure that God will forgive us for not forgiving? Matt 6:15 says pretty bluntly, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” That sounds pretty clear cut to me.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 2, 2005 @ 5:07 am

  15. I do think that it relates to the Banner threads (in spite of you denial) because it seems like Julie is being universally accused of not forgiving the BoHers. Which doesn’t appear to be what is actually going on.

    Regarding the timing on forgiveness, I am inclined to believe that the timing is more dependent on us than it is on God. Since I believe Him to be a loving Father, I think that He would rather have us with Him than not. Sometimes the process may be strung out to help out our humility or our patience (the development of both being essential to prevented further sinnin’ down the road), but ultimately God wants to forgive and to do it as soon as possible.

    Finally, I do think that some things are beyond the human capacity for forgiveness (rape and murder of a daughter comes to mind). So it is lucky then that we can get divine help on this account.

    Comment by John C. — November 2, 2005 @ 6:25 am

  16. Eric–
    I think we can come up with some pretty lurid examples of things that would be nigh unto impossible to forgive. Unfortunately, a lot of people experience pretty terrible things in this life, and not just during Nazi times or in Rwanda.

    I guess I am saying that I feel a little uncomfortable telling someone to forgive unconditionally in this lifetime. If they’ve been through something bad, I think God will help them reach that state of required forgiveness in the hereafter.

    Comment by NFlanders — November 2, 2005 @ 7:11 am

  17. Bob and Tom are best friends. Behind his back, Bob commits adultery with Tom’s wife, and then rapes Tom’s daughter, kills his son. Bob also finds Tom’s parents and tortures them to death. Bob manages to frame Tom for all of it, sending Tom to jail for life. But Tom only goes to jail after an extended and extremely humiliating series of trials, wherein everyone who has ever known Tom has now come to revile him. Meanwhile, Bob takes hold of Tom’s fortune and lives off it in luxury. Before sending Tom off to jail, he also manages to physically assault him and permanently injure him, leaving Tom to live a life of constant pain and deformity.

    Tom is a good guy, and somehow he has managed to forgive Bob of all of it – even though Bob doesn’t show the slightest bit of remorse for it. But deep down, Tom is still a little bit raw about the whole deal and is still carrying a slight grudge against Bob.

    Conclusion: It is not only possible for Tom to repent and fully forgive Bob, but it is a moral necessity. To the degree that he fails to love Bob as himself, Tom will never be happy.

    An impossible feat for Tom? No. It is very possible. And though I’m not claiming that I could do it myself at this moment, I believe it’s actually much easier than we think. When we break down and actually love one another – when we see others as Christ sees us – the possibility suddenly appears.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 2, 2005 @ 7:52 am

  18. There are problems with approaching any principle of the gospel with a single verse of scripture. It may result in a conclusion that is too focused or not sufficiently nuanced.

    I don’t think we can understand what Jesus meant when he said this unless it is studied in the broader context of the scriptures. There are many examples of justice, injustice, mercy and cruelty, that must be considered. Otherwise we are all required to turn into helpless docile pacifists who look on meekly as vicious people do what they want.

    Comment by danithew — November 2, 2005 @ 8:17 am

  19. “Otherwise we are all required to turn into helpless docile pacifists who look on meekly as vicious people do what they want.”

    I don’t think forgiveness requires this. Forgiveness simply means bearing no ill will towards another. Thus, you can fully forgive another’s crime but still insist that they serve their jail sentence to maintain the integrity of the judicial system as well as for the sake of the protection of others.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 2, 2005 @ 9:27 am

  20. Wow, Eric. Your violent example and the context of this thread reminds me of the movie, “The Usual Suspects”. Kayser Soze was under our noses the entire time!!

    As for forgiveness, I think forgiveness is mostly for the person wronged. Carrying around bitterness and anger wrecks your soul. The sooner a person can get rid of that burden, the better.

    Comment by Elisabeth — November 2, 2005 @ 10:47 am

  21. “An impossible feat for Tom? No. It is very possible.”

    I agree that it is possible. I disagree that it is actually possible for Tom (I will give you theoretical possibility). I agree that it is very possible for Tom with God’s help/intervention.

    Comment by John C. — November 2, 2005 @ 11:02 am

  22. I agree with the general idea that we should try to forgive immediately (or at least as soon as we possibly can) but sometimes we cannot MANIFEST our forgiveness sooner. I think that’s where forgiveness really comes about. Yes, we must work it out inwardly first, but by showing it in whatever way appropriate will really show others, the Lord, and ourselves how much we have truly forgiven them.
    Example: I had a mission companion that did some very mean things to me while we were together, but I wasn’t able to truly see that I had rid myself of ill will towards him till I talked to him a few months later. He never said anything to me about being sorry for what he’d done, but I forgave him and treated him like I had before we had problems.
    Another: Another companion of mine borrowed a substantial amount of money (for a missionary) from me, saying he would repay and then quickly forgot about it and I’ve never heard from him since. I like to think I’ve forgiven him but I don’t know if I ever will really know unless I see him again.
    Does that make sense?

    Comment by Bret — November 2, 2005 @ 6:30 pm

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