Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part one)


Forgiveness is Not Forgetting or Excusing

Yesterday I started to define forgiveness with three explanations for what it is.  But today I want to bring more clarity by describing what it is not.

One of the reasons so many people refuse to forgive is they think it’s more than what I’ve already described. So here are two of five things that forgiveness is not.

1. To forgive is not to forget.

Some people think that all you have to do to forgive is just forget what happened. Maybe someone has said that to you. Just forget about it. What’s the problem? Why can’t you get over it!  Then they will quote the Bible where God said… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Jeremiah 31:34.

These people say you just need to do what God does…forget. But when offended people hear this they shut down. They often say… if forgiving is contingent on my forgetting then I can never forgive because I’ll never forget what was done to me.

Look back at the verse from Jeremiah. It doesn’t say that God forgets our sin. It says he chooses to not remember it. That’s a big difference. The truth is…when it comes to the big hurts in life, we don’t forgive and forget. We forgive what we can’t forget.  We can forget the little offenses. It’s the big offenses that stick with us. The big offenses need something more powerful than forgetting. They need forgiveness.

2. To forgive is not to excuse.

I’ve seen many people recoil at the thought of forgiving because they think that if they forgive it will send the message to their offender that what they did wasn’t really that bad.  This is especially true for victims of abuse and betrayal. But that’s not what forgiveness is about.

God doesn’t excuse us. He doesn’t minimize what we’ve done. The Bible gives us many examples of this. Listen to what Peter said to a group of people…

You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.   Acts 3:13-15

Peter’s accusation couldn’t be any stronger. Yet he still offers forgiveness.

Now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders…Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…Acts 3:17-19.

God’s forgiveness doesn’t excuse what we did. And neither should ours. Two authors put it this way…Forgiveness acknowledges that moral violations in relationships are wrong.  But forgiveness cancels a debt that a person legitimately owes rather than simply lets the person off the hook.  Forgiveness does not wink at the moral violation (condoning) or deny the offender’s responsibility (exoneration).  Forgiveness chooses to cancel a debt that is serious and real.  To Forgive is Human, p. 33

If you are afraid that forgiving someone will communicate the wrong thing to your offender then you need to be clear just like the Bible is clear. Outline the severity of what they did but let them know that you won’t hold it against them. You won’t treat them like less of a person or with any less dignity.

Tomorrow I will look at two more words that forgiveness is not. Learn more in the book STUCK.

Question: What are some reasons you’ve used for not forgiving? Leave your comment below and please consider “sharing the knowledge” with others.

  • Download the podcast or text of the full message “Defining Forgiveness” here.
  • Defining Forgiveness – Three Things That Forgiveness Is (
  • Moving On From the Hurt (
  • Why Can’t I Forgive? (

11 thoughts on “Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part one)

  1. stephaniecbarrett

    A few quotes come to mind when you speak about forgiveness!
    1. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
    Suzanne Somers
    2. Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.
    Dag Hammarskjold
    3.Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
    Mark Twain (I have used the term rose used instead of violet).
    4. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
    Alexander Pope
    5. Lastly is something my nephew told his mother many years ago when she was fretting about something that she could not change. ” Do not ever let anyone live rent free in your head.”
    How often have we wasted time and energy holding onto the past and what we perceive is harm done to ourselves?

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