Forgiving the Unforgivable

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Based on the response to my last post (Forgiveness is a Choice) I’m going to continue the discussion on forgiveness.

Up until now it’s really been kid stuff. I framed forgiveness in very user-friendly terms…that is, in ways that made it palatable…easy to swallow. I said that forgiveness was  about setting you free from your offender…not letting the thought of what they did hold you hostage.

Forgiving the Unforgivable

I agree with that image. But that’s Forgiveness 101. That’s the first step in the right direction. It’s always easier to do something when you are the one who benefits. But what about the offense that feels unforgivable? It feels wrong to forgive… like you are betraying yourself and maybe others too.  Is it right that your forgiveness would actually benefit your offender?

I think these questions need to be answered. As I read what others are saying about forgiveness it’s becoming increasingly self-centered and that concerns me. Forgiveness helping YOU is a part of the equation. It’s not the whole equation.

Loving Your Enemies

From here on out, my discussion might only make sense if you are willing to see things from a spiritual point of view. That’s because Forgiveness 201 or 501 (i.e. forgiving the unforgivable) takes more than what we have as humans. Jesus called on his followers to love their enemies. Most of us have a hard enough time loving our family members and friends when they offend us.  Our enemies…really?

The enemies Jesus referred to were the Roman army/government that occupied Jerusalem and taxed them heavily.  It’s the Romans he was talking about when he told people to “turn the other cheek” and to “walk another mile”.  We don’t get the full weight of what was going on but just think of some of the stories you’ve heard about what occupying armies do to people. It’s not pretty. There are deep wounds that come from that. Yet Jesus  called people to love, forgive and bless these people.

Absorbing the Wrong of Others

Miroslav Volf writes in his book “Free of and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace” that forgiveness should “absorb the wrongdoing in order to transform the wrongdoer” (page 161).   Absorb the wrong. He’s not saying to excuse it. I talked about that before. He’s talking  about not adding to the evil that  already exists. When we do… at whatever level (thought or deed) we lower ourselves to our offenders state and add to their evil. He says…

Revenge multiplies evil. Retributive justice contains evil – and threatens the world with destruction. Forgiveness overcomes evil with good. page 161

In other words…Jesus’ followers have enough God in them to stop the madness of evil. They refuse to return evil for evil…that was the law of the land. They chose to return good for evil introducing a new kingdom with new rules and in doing that… made space for evildoers to be transformed.

Do you want to be a part of that kind of kingdom or does your hate run so deep that all you long for is justice?

I have more to say but I’ll leave it there for today.

Question: What are the questions/revulsion/push back you have to forgiving your enemies?

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  • How to Forgive: Setting Four Levels of Boundaries (
  • Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three) (

13 thoughts on “Forgiving the Unforgivable

  1. Anonymous

    “In other words…Jesus’ followers have enough God in them to stop the madness of evil. ” I wonder is this isn’t the bottom line. Can anyone honestly admit how much God they have in them?? I believe most people come to a kind of spiritual denial pretending they have God and not willing to openly admit it’s a moment by moment “Grace seeking mission”. More pain has been inflicted by “stopping the madness of Evil” rather than allowing God to heal us from the inside and only then watching the outside change.

  2. Gloria Ames

    In my journey I have also been struck by how self-centered the forgiveness piece becomes, and that even Christian counselors focus on personal benefit and rarely move on to the fact that Christians are commanded to forgive. It is a difficult thought process, indeed, to forgive simply out of obedience and not for one’s own benefit. Thank you for keeping the message biblical.

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Thanks. You know…what you said makes me realize that the church (myself included) tends to back pedal on hard truths because we have seen so many abuses in the church. It is a very hard balance and one BIG downside to blogging on a sensitive issue is that the reader can’t sense my heart for people who are suffering incredible pain. So the word to “forgive” can seem heartless and legalistic. I’m trying hard to speak with grace. The deeper you get into forgiveness the more it takes.


  3. B. Graffunder

    From a friend going to Bethel for a master’s in counseling, I recently heard a new-to-me take on “turn the other cheek” and “walk two miles”. It is summed up in this article (under “interpretations”): I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
    Two of my favorite saying about forgiveness:
    “Unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”
    “Forgiving a debt means absorbing the cost.”

    I have realized that in my own life, my struggle to forgive is, many times, a struggle to hold onto control…or at least the illusion that I have control over that area of my life!

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Thanks for the wiki link. I think any interpretation that implies demanding equality or bringing shame on the offender misses the point. Jesus is talking about loving enemies and doing good to them. As with Volf’s quote from my post, he’s talking about absorbing their evil and not retaliating. The message one sends is that as a member of God’s kingdom you have nothing to lose. You don’t need to demand what others demand because you draw your life from another source. I don’t think Jesus’ words are meant for nations to determine policy. He’s taking extreme personal examples to make his point. Hope that helps!


  4. Lisa

    I agree when forgiveness is practiced, an opportunity for transformation happens both in the enemies’ heart as well as our own. Evidence of our transformed relationship, is that we can chose to be kind to both the good and evil. I am in agreement with Jesus, that the act of forgiveness teaches everyone to be perfect (mature)like the Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:43-48). Doing good, turning the cheek, going the extra mile, praying for your enemies, blessing them, even feeding them draws you closer to the Father in Heaven. By faith we know there is a reward in this b/c Jesus said it. Overcoming evil with good is what living sacrifices do (Romans 12). The danger of not forgiving is that the root of bitterness can spring up, defiling many in the process. Returning to grace is the solution for bitterness (Hebrew 12:15).

    Returning to grace reminds us of where we use to be. Enemies of God, committing what seems to be the unforgiveable. Romans 5: 8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

    The challenge we have is that forgiveness extended does not always guarantee hard hearts will be softened. We have concerns about repeat offenses. Jesus helps us there too 70 x 7 (Matt 18) and 1 John 1:10. Your other articles are helpful here too. Forgiveness can be separated from trust and respect. We can move from victim mentality to “more than conquerors” thinking by the grace of God.

  5. Pingback: Forgiving the Unforgiveable – part two | F. Remy Diederich –

  6. Grandby

    Remy what appears here now is a very short part of a long note that I wrote a while ago on forgiveness.
    I am Home, dear Lord, hold me in your arms forever. My arms reach out to you in thanksgivng and love.  And when I turn away in my humanity, may I always turn back to you in love, your love is everlasting and I can never earn it, but can accept and understand it. I can’t ever imagine leaving you again, but my soul tells me that you will always be waiting, loving and gazing at all of us, waiting for us to come home over and over again, until we meet you someday in heaven. And for today, I see you in the faces that cross the pattern of my life, thank you Lord, I love you and I am yours.

  7. Grandby

    Here is another part of that same essay use here or wherever it fits in your need to help others forgive. I am blessed that that part of my life is gone now, truly very rarely thought of, time does heal wounds.

    Where are my glasses. I can’t see?  I need to not see, I need to trust and I know that the time has come to allow the pain to totally be released. I know what you are asking , it is total surrender Lord. The words of the song, Amazing Grace come to mind in what is happening.  How often have I thought I was there and was not even close. God take all of me, take my memory, and all that I am.  You are my love and will always be mine. Make me what you want me to be. Help me to be kind and gentle and show your love to all, the way that it has been shown to me by so many. We the many, one God of all!

    1. F. Remy Diederich Post author

      Thanks Stephanie. Have you ever told your story, that is, what it is you had to forgive and how you came to that place?


  8. Pingback: Forgiving the Unforgiveable Taps a Divine Source | F. Remy Diederich –

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