Forgiveness & pardon

January 24th, 2023 in Life. Tags: , , , , ,
Thoughtful and sorry

Forgiveness is a core part of the christian faith, and I thought I understood it. But when I started researching the topic, I found it was slightly more complicated than I thought.

It seems that God expects us to forgive unconditionally, and psychologists say this is the best way to live. But according to christianity, God’s forgiveness of us is conditional on our repentance and on Jesus dying for us.

How does that work?

Forgiveness benefits our wellbeing

The psychologists are very clear. Numerous studies have shown that if we are hurt or treated badly and hold a grudge, it will damage our mental and emotional wellbeing, and perhaps even our physical health. But if we forgive, we’ll feel better, the relationship will likely be restored, and we’ll feel more positive about life and the future. Really big benefits.

The person who hurt us benefits also. Their guilt and shame can be lessened and the relationship they spoilt can be put right.

But what is forgiveness?

The psychologists define forgiveness as making the choice to replace ill will, resentment or revenge with good will. We put aside any sense of wanting recompense for the hurt.

And they say that we need to forgive without demanding that the person apologises first.

Forgiveness and pardon

Forgiveness and pardon are closely related. Forgiveness deals with our attitude towards someone who has wronged us – we choose to stop feeling resentment towards them. Pardon addresses the consequences of their actions – we no longer hold them accountable.

So when a hurt is purely personal, we can both pardon and forgive. But if a law has been broken, we can forgive but we cannot pardon because their action has consequences that go beyond ourselves.

God’s forgiveness

Christians generally say that God’s forgiveness requires our repentance first, which is contrary to the way we have defined forgiveness.

By if we define forgiveness and pardon as we have (i.e. the way psychologists do rather thn the way christians normally do), God has already forgiven all of us. That is, he doesn’t have ill will, resentment or revenge towards us, but rather love and good will.

But our bad behaviour still has consequences, and they require God’s pardon, for we are accountable to him. And pardon does require repentance – that is agreeing with God that some of our actions were wrong and asking him to pardon or forgive us. (While the psychologists have their definitions, I don’t think God minds which term we use!)

If we are forgiven and pardoned, we no longer need to carry guilt and shame, and we can have a restored relationship with God. Which is a wonderful thing!

It’s not really important, but ….

This is simply a matter of words and definitions, so why do I think it is important enough to write a post about it?

Well, I think it is important to understand that God isn’t failing to do something he expects of us, namely to forgive unconditionally. But forgiveness doesn’t deal with the consequences, and for that, we need to ask for God’s pardon.

And while it is a mystery beyong our understanding, God’s pardon and Jesus’ death are somehow related.

The importance of forgiveness & pardon

Forgiveness and pardon are at the very core of christianity. We need to seek God’s forgiveness and pardon, which he willingly and freely gives. And then he calls on us to offer the same forgiveness to others – our own forgiveness and pardon depend in it.

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Photo by Liza Summer.

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