“Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”
I don’t know about you, but I mess up. A lot. And in my life, I’ve found myself asking for forgiveness more than once. But when I fell from ministry, it took me a while to get to a place where my heart was right enough to ask forgiveness in the right manner. I blogged about that a little last time.
I’d like to focus on why people fail to forgive, even though a heartfelt and repentant apology is offered. It’s a difficult thing to face, especially when you’ve taken the time to face your demons, approach someone with humility and say those two words, “I’m sorry.” But I might point out – if you find yourself angry if someone withholds forgiveness, your heart still might not be in the right place. But that’s a topic for later.
So let’s get to a few reasons why people withhold forgiveness:
1. They want you to jump through more hoops.
So there you are. You’ve committed a sin and people have been hurt. You’ve reconciled to God, gotten help, and done what you can to make restitution (if you’ve broken laws). You approach someone you’ve hurt and ask for forgiveness. They say, “No. You still aren’t fully repentant.” Then, they add a few caveats to what would make you more repentant: talking to their pastor, church attendance every Sunday, an attitude change that they haven’t seen yet, etc.
What are you supposed to do?
First, take their response graciously. They could be right. Maybe you haven’t been the most humble. Maybe you have neglected something. Give their point of view a chance. After you have, then explain to them with all love the steps you have taken and how God has forgiven you. Tell them about how deep the grace of God is, how you’ve been humbled by the decisions you made and how great the love of God is.
If you’re still there holding the bag and they don’t understand or are unwilling to forgive, then show grace. Agree to disagree and maybe meet at a later time.
I said in the last blog I’d say something particular about adultery. I’ve blogged about it before and here is the link. It is my belief that no one is beyond rescue. No one is beyond the grace of God. If someone comes to us asking to be forgiven, who are we to refuse if they have shown humility and have been forgiven by God? Don’t add something that is beyond the work of God to what they need to do.
2. They have been hurt in their past.
Some people won’t forgive because the sin you committed was committed by someone in their past close to them. When you did it, it just opened up a huge wound for them. That old wound was never closed and they see that sin as unforgivable. Your chances of being forgiven by them? Not very good. How were you supposed to know? You weren’t.
This is one of those things that you just trust God to work out. Sometimes we come across unforgiving people and just wonder, “Why are they like that?” This is one of the reasons. Keep it in mind and know that God is at work in the hearts of people. Don’t judge people when they withhold forgiveness. Just love, understand and move on.
3. They are currently committing the same sin.
Similar to #2, but slightly different. They will lash out at you for whatever you did, but they are secretly doing the same thing. It’s pretty common. Those who are involved in a sin will be harsh critics of that sin. And similar to #2, God will work it out.
4. They are still hurt and not ready to forgive.
This one can be tough for people. We think that just because we are ready to say the words, “I’m sorry,” that someone should be ready to forgive. Well, it doesn’t always work that way. When we hurt someone, we don’t always understand the degree to which we’ve hurt them. And it’s selfish of us to think we do.
Sometimes, people need time alone with their hurt. Sometimes they need to pray. Sometimes they need counseling. Sometimes they just need time. Give it to them. Don’t rush them. Don’t bombard them with, “You know, I asked for forgiveness and the Bible says you’re supposed to give it to me.” Don’t guilt them into forgiving you because it’s not right or natural.
Give people space and time. It’s the gracious thing to do.
5. They are right not to, because your apology wasn’t honest.
Here’s another one that’s tough. Sometimes people may see in you a lack of repentance. They see a lack of humility. And they might call you out on it. They should do it in love and compassion. When you ask for forgiveness, don’t react harshly if they do this. Listen.
And if they want to talk about it and you don’t think you can handle it, go to a mediator. Someone you both trust and will listen to. Maybe you both have a point.
Forgiveness is worth working for. It’s worth being humble for. It’s worth the hard work and difficulty. There are probably about a thousand points I’ve left out. If you think of any, feel free to make a comment on this blog and list one. As a community of faith, that’s why we’re here. To help each other out.
And, as always, if you’re struggling with anything, please feel free to contact me. If I can’t help you, I probably know someone who can.
Want to leave a comment? Click the “keep reading” button and join the conversation.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.
If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.