Forgiveness – How and when to forgive.

• What Jesus said about forgiveness.
• Forgiveness is vertical but reconciliation is horizontal.
• The danger of unforgiveness.
• Examples of unforgiveable damage or hurt.

OLD-FASHIONED SPIRITUAL WORDS. It is said that old-fashioned words, from the Bible for example, are going out of fashion. Words such as sin, repentance, grace, or mercy don’t appear in our conversations much, and certainly not near as often as words like I-phone, apps, Facebook, likes, or Wifi.

THE WORD FORGIVENESS IS AN EXCEPTION, since the concept is brought up frequently in today’s conversations. When a couple split, for instance, they are told they must forgive the other person. If we make a huge mistake in life, we are urged to forgive ourselves to be able to move on. Psychologists generalize and now insist forgiveness should be a part of all relationships. Yet forgiveness is a very old concept, and one that was emphasized by Jesus – as featured in the Lord’s prayer for instance. Has it really taken mankind 2,000 years to rediscover the word and its value in a person’s life?

I taught two classes in a United Methodist church in Tulsa recently, both on forgiveness. Summaries are below:

    • As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus introduced the Lord’s prayer, which included the piece we all know about forgiveness. At the end he went back to the forgiveness bit and added some emphasis, “For if you forgive people their trespasses – letting them go and giving up resentment – your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.” This is a strong statement.
  • • Forgiving resentments is easier for some than others. In a dinner conversation with an elderly couple, the husband said forgiveness was easy but the wife, who was astonished at that, stated that it was very hard.
  • • Jim Jackson, ex-pastor of Chapelwood UMC, said sometimes forgiveness requires professional counseling.


  • • Forgiveness is vertical…. between you and God. It is obligatory (see above).
    Reconciliation is horizontal……between you and another person. It may or may not happen. You may choose not to reconcile. The other person may choose not to reconcile. And all this is okay. But you have to forgive. Please don’t ever feel like you haven’t forgiven because you haven’t reconciled – this may cause unnecessary guilt. I first heard this concept in a sermon by Jim Jackson.
    • What if you have looked back over your life, and have forgiven everyone you can think of? BUT you missed someone and there is someone out there you still have not forgiven? Does this mean you are not forgiven by God (see topmost bullet)? NO! This is covered by grace, God’s unearned favor toward us. If our heart is forgiving, meaning we have a forgiving attitude, we are forgiven by God for things we can’t remember. So grace takes care of this….. we don’t have to sweat. The sweat is for folks who have an ATTITUDE of unforgiveness.
  • What about someone who has committed a grievous sin against you? For example, a child who has rebelled into sex and drugs? We have to forgive, but we may have to place boundaries to protect ourselves. If a child addict steals our meds when he comes to our house, we may have to uninvite him until this behavior changes. This is where the general concept of tough love applies.

    Michael Morton and wife Chris with young son. Click on image to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog.

  • What about a person who has committed a maximal sin, where almost unforgiveable damage is incurred by you? A man called Michael Morton was jailed for 25 years for murdering his wife. In a shocking reversal, he was cleared by a new trial where DNA evidence was brought in. He forgave the inept attorney who convicted him, saying, “I understand suffering and I understand unfairness. I have discovered that God exists, that He is wise, and that He loves me. If you internalize these, then what’s the problem?” I think this is Michael’s way of saying that if God loves me, I can forgive anything. The whole story is an amazing one (click here to read my blog about it.)
  • Michael Morton, released from prison. Click on image to source.

  • Another example of maximal sin is Oscar Pistorius, the disabled amputee “blade runner” from South Africa who killed his girlfriend, a model Reeva Steenkamp. I recall an uncle of Steenkamp’s said that the family had forgiven Pistorius, because that was what they were commanded to do by Jesus, although I couldn’t find the reference.



Pistorius at the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea.

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The Gray Nomad
Think well, and help someone to hope.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

[Book of Matthew, chapter 18].

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7 years ago

Thanks Ian for your insights into the Gospel subject of Forgiveness. Jesus seem to give us very little wiggle room, if any, when it comes to forgiving others their trespasses against us; except as noted in your blog where grace is applied to our unintentionally forgetting our sins against others. I believe the Scriptures teach that “grace” is also applied where our understanding is limited. I believe there is another aspect where forgiveness is required; such as infractions against people by people we don’t know and have not seen. These are sins against children and others, such as human trafficking, child abuse, porn, war etc. It is hard to comprehend the impact of such crimes/sins on the victimized and on society. I don’t see how it is possible to forgive such atrocities on our own. Yet we are required to forgive, and only through the love and atonement of Christ can we do this. On one hand, it is hard to rightly judge a person when we do not know their background, conditioning, teachings and childhood, etc. However, these acts are heinous, and cannot be tolerated by society, and must be judged according to relevant civil laws. There is a scripture that states, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but unto you it is required to forgive all men.” Jesus knew that forgiveness brings light and happiness into our lives; while being unforgiving gathers differing degrees of darkness, nagging unhappiness, and bitterness into our hearts and souls. He wants us to be happy in the light of His Gospel. Through the study of Jesus’ teachings, and by admitting we are unable to rightly judge others, and by trying to understand the depths of His Love and Atonement; we can become more able to understand people and apply forgiveness in our lives.

Mary Ann
Mary Ann
7 years ago

Ian this is a great blog on forgiveness. There are some things that are really hard to forgive. The scripture that always comes to mind is that if I don’t forgive then I am not forgiven. I am always asking God to let me know if there is someone I haven’t forgiven and to please let me know.
Thanks for sharing this important message about forgiveness.

7 years ago
Reply to  Mary Ann

Mary Ann, if we have a forgiving heart and attitude, the situation you mention is covered by God’s grace, and we don’t have to worry.

Karen Larre
Karen Larre
7 years ago

Very beautiful, Ian. We all need to experience more forgiveness. Our world will be a different place when we do.

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