“There is No Future Without Forgiveness”

I have a couple of friends who do not believe in Hell. One claims she would mete out justice by taking those who have committed heinous crimes and throw them to the deepest part of the ocean – there they would languish under hot sun, salty water, sharks, storms and more. Death would come but not without fear and fight. When asked about forgiveness, reconciliation or restoration the answer is simple and forceful: there are some things that can never be forgiven, never be restored.

She is not alone – indeed we all have our views of what justice should look like. In the recent Aurora shootings the alleged killer was put in solitary confinement in a jail; he was not safe with the other prisoners who, though breakers of the law themselves, found this to be a heinous crime — one they would have punished.

In recent years International Criminal Tribunals have risen in response to atrocities committed around the world. There is wide support for these tribunals; Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others keep a global eye on tribunals that are held, ensuring that there is justice.

But Daniel Philpott in an excellent article in First Things poses the argument that these tribunals are focused primarily on punishment and neglect reconciliation. One could ask “Does true healing ever take place without reconciliation?” 

And can reconciliation ever take place without forgiveness?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission says emphatically to his fellow country men “There is no future without forgiveness”. 

We are in a world that cries out in pain – a world that desperately needs to have forgiveness and reconciliation modeled. At its core the Christian message is a drama of reconciliation acted out on the world stage through the cross.

Is it a drama we can reproduce, replay, and reenact through our own willingness to forgive – or is it a one time Oscar-winning performance? It’s a question I have to ask myself every day. 

11 thoughts on ““There is No Future Without Forgiveness”

  1. Because I met bitterness and unforgiveness in every pastorate where I served, one of my first series was on forgiveness. So crucial to begin with God’s forgiveness of our sins, to look to the cross, to adopt the attitudes of the beatitudes. Finally, wrote my thoughts in “Revolutionary Forgiveness.”


  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, and I appreciate your post. I’ve also become more and more convinced that contrition is part and parcel of reconciliation. Reconciliation without a contrite heart seems more like resignation to the status quo to me, than true reconciliation. I’ve recently fallen prey to the twisted form of pseudo-apology: “I’m sorry you interpreted it that way…” or “I’m sorry you heard it that way”. These forms of ‘apology’ lay the blame on the person wronged… and even if there is no clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ person in the situation, they don’t give way at all for reconciliation in that they only imply movement on the part of one party. So how do we go about forgiving the un-repentant?


    1. It takes two to reconcile. When your forgiveness isn’t accepted or responded to, you just have to go on and be able to tolerate the difficult feelings involved. Other people have a choice, it’s not about what you have or haven’t done.

      And “I’m sorry you heard it that way” is not even an pseudo-apology! It’s a way of trying to save face and cover one’s ass at the same time and succeeding at neither. Usually it compounds the hurt already committed.

      When I feel the need to apologize it is 100% about me and my behavior, not at all about the other person’s. That’s his business, not mine. I have found that truly forgiving is one of the hardest things in the world. Sometimes I can only do it in stages and it never feels quite complete. But I think that’s as it should be. We can only fully forgive to the extent that we fully know ourselves and that’s never going to happen.


    2. The forgiveness is for you not for the person who has harmed you. It is so that you can get rid of the extra baggage of hurt and be light and move on. The only person you are responsible for is yourself. it is hard to remember that when we have been hurt but it is true. I am only responsible for my actions and words. If someone hurts me unless I did something to merit it, it is not my problem it is their’s. It is not my problem that a person cant find a kind word for me, or stabs me in the back, or hurts me, or cheats me.
      Those actions come from some darkness within the other person or some deep unhappiness or frustration. When I think of it that way i can even find pity in my heart for that person. happy contented people, do not go around hurting others. hurting can go back and forth like a ping pong ball. it is best to forgive and say ok it stops here and will go no further and you have the power to do that. I think being able to forgive and let go is very empowering. It is when you say that I will not be a puppet anymore and no one is going to pull my strings or get to me. I will forgive I will let go i will be in charge.


    3. Thanks for honesty. Forgiveness is a constant battle for me, particularly with my parents. They have opted for the “it wasn’t like that” and the “thats your version”, with no real interest in owning or explaining their choices. Forgiveness has been easier for me when there is no relationship left, but with parents who refuse to acknowledge my feelings or thoughts as valid it had been hard.

      I did have a very angry rant at God asking him “what will you do if I forgive them?” and the first words in my head were “something beautiful” (that shut me up very quickly, as it WAS God not me, I would never have thought that!). There is an old chorus of that title with beautiful words that go:
      Something beautiful, something good,
      All of my confusion, He understood.
      All I had to offer Him
      was brokeness and pride,
      But He made something beautiful
      out of my life.

      Things arent fixed, and I still have my very angry moments, but I do see God in my life, when I let Him into my mess. And in the end I can only do my part, and that sometimes means protecting vunerable parts of myself from my parents.


      1. With parents who can’t acknowledge your feelings or experience, the wound is constantly being torn open, isn’t it? I didn’t feel at peace until my parents were both gone. When I look back I realize that that through it all I did the best I could with managing the hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, and everything else that the relationships threw up at me. I think we make it harder for ourselves if we think that the absence of hard feelings is the desired end. Or even that if we still feel angry at times that means we haven’t forgiven. These are states that come and go.

        Guilt particularly is a hall of mirrors and it’s hard to tell whose guilt is whose. With parents who can’t acknowledge anything, you are left to shoulder all the guilt, both yours and theirs. When I was doing that, I had by necessity to stay away from them, and ultimately it changed the kind of relationship that was finally possible with them. I had to remind myself and occasionally I pointed it out to them: you are part of this, too. You have made choices and this is the consequence.


      2. I’ll respond more later as my Internet is not strong. But wanted to agree with your final thought on protecting yourself — it’s being wise as a serpent and innocent as dove.


  3. I don’t believe in hell in an after-life, I believe in hell as a state during our own lifetimes. I came to this conclusion after my own sojourn there. Hell was a deep alienation from my own spirit, my own self. I understand that readers of this blog would probably want to insert God in there somewhere but I don’t because I think it goes without saying that my spirit is part of the great spirit that infuses the world with life. I don’t find it useful to make a huge distinction between God and the rest of life.

    I wonder only occasionally about the state of hell that exists in the minds of “serial killers, war mongers, ethnic cleansers” etc but I think that’s a much easier problem to contemplate than why I am still holding a grudge against so and so after 40 years. It’s easy to go all judgmental and righteous over serial killers. I think psychology and sociology has better answers than religion because once you’ve labelled it sin there’s not much else to say.

    I do agree that “forgiveness doesn’t benefit the person who has wronged you, it prevents your own soul from becoming a dark place.”


  4. Forgiveness is a topic very dear to my heart for I believe that without forgiveness there can never be peace. I further believe that forgiveness is a Divine virtue, which God has instilled into all human beings, only in some people, negative qualities may be so strong that they cloud out all the good attributes.
    What I am going to discuss here is the forgiveness from the Islamic point of view giving references from the Quran. First of all among the 99 names of Allah in Islam there are three which are Al Ghaffar (The one who forgives repeatedly) Al Ghafur- (The Much Forgiving) and Al Afu (The Pardoner, The Effacer, The Forgive). The message of God’s mercy is reiterated constantly in the Qur’an. Not only do the words promise forgiveness but the Qur’an also advises forgiveness in a number of verses.
    The following are from the chapter 42
    40. The recompense for an injury Is an injury equal thereto (In degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, His reward is due From God: for (God) does not love those who do wrong.
    42. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice:
    For such there will be a grievous Penalty.
    43. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.

    It took me a long time to understand why forgiveness was so important. Forgiveness doesn’t benefit the person who has wronged you, it prevents your own soul from becoming a dark place, which it becomes if you keep brooding over the wrongs done to you. Our goal in this life should be above all, keeping our soul clean and pure and that cannot be if we wish evil upon others even those who have wronged us. If someone wrongs me should I hurt myself further by wronging my soul.
    Forgiveness moreover opens the doors of reconciliation. If the person who has harmed me is a person who knows me then my forgiveness might be the light that he needs to find the remorse within himself, to cleanse his own soul. If I do not forgive but plan and exact revenge, will my revenge be equal to the harm done to me. No it is not possible, it will be in much greater proportion. That way I will become a perpetrator and wrong doer moreover starting a never ending series of vendetta. That is why God has sent the message to forgive, for only through forgiveness there can be lasting peace.

    I too have friends who do not believe in hell and I too have wondered about serial killers, war mongers, ethnic cleansers, people who kill new born daughters (still happens in India) and others whose sins against humanity are so huge one is sure they will be punished for it. I do believe in hell not because I believe in a vengeful God but a Just God. If a person kills 1 person or millions of people, in the world he can only be tried and executed once. Moreover the pain and suffering he caused cannot be wiped out by his death. Only Divine justice can mete out his punishment as well as recompense those who have suffered. Yes God re compensates people for all loses they suffer in ways only He knows. It is rare that people understand that.
    Forgiveness is also very important on a larger scale, after war, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, slavery, genocide, rioting for at some time it ends and people, both perpetrators and victims have to find a way to live together in peace. This can only be when neither fears the other or hates the other and can only be truly achieved by forgiveness.
    There is a verse I often pray, one that I pray more now in Ramadan, the month when we ask most for Mercy and Forgiveness from God. A verse of such hope that it fills me with tears. It is from Chapter 39
    53, O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls Despair not of the Mercy Of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
    Yes there is much mention of hell in the Qur’an and yet comes this beautiful message of Mercy promising Forgiveness for all sins. No it is not a contradiction because what God wants and needs is remorse. What our soul needs to cleanse it, are true tears of remorse. It is only when we are remorseful, when we are filled with shame and guilt and are sorry for what we have done, the pain we have caused, that we can put it behind and make sure we do not repeat it.


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