14 Questions on Forgiveness

1) What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is our decision to accept God's grace to let go of the hurt due to sins committed against us and to express this by acts of mercy and love toward the offender (see Lk 15:20-24).

"Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to oneself. It is the key held in our own hand to our prison cell" (Pope John Paul II).

2) How often must I forgive?

70 x 7, that is, indefinitely, always (see Mt 18:22).

3) Are there any sins committed against me which I don't have to forgive?

No. The Lord calls us to forgive all sins — even rape, murder, abuse, adultery, etc. We never have the occasion to forgive others for their character, attitude, or motives. We are not to judge these things.

4) When I forgive, am I condoning sin?

No, the Lord forgives all our sins and condones none of them (see Jn 8:11).

5) Must I forgive if the person offending me isn't sorry?

Yes, for-giveness is before-giveness — to give pardon before asked forgiveness or even if never asked forgiveness.

6) Must I forgive if a person continues to hurt me?

Yes. While hanging on the cross, Jesus forgave His enemies even as they continued to spit at Him and blaspheme Him (see Lk 23:34).

7) If I forgive a person, do I stay in an abusive situation?

No. You free yourself to obey God and remove yourself from an abusive situation until it is changed. If you do not forgive, you will often enable others' irresponsible behavior by becoming co-dependent.

8) How do I forgive?

None of us can forgive by our own power. "To err is human, to forgive divine," and we are not divine. However, the Lord promised us His divine power to forgive. Therefore, forgiveness is our decision to accept God's grace to forgive.

9) What if I don't want to forgive?

We should pray and ask the Lord to change our hearts.

10) How quickly must I forgive?

Immediately (Mt 5:25). We're in a self-made jail and at a stand-still in our relationship with God until we forgive.

11) What if I forgive and not forget?

Forgetting offenses against us does not mean we have amnesia but that there is no special sting in us when we remember offenses. If it hurts us to remember offenses against us, either we need healing or have not truly forgiven.

12) How do I forgive myself?

The Bible does not speak of our forgiving ourselves. Not forgiving ourselves is a symptom which will take care of itself if we truly forgive others and receive prayers for healing.

13) What if I don't forgive?

1. We "give the devil a chance to work on" us (see Eph 4:27).

2. We are handed over to the torturers (Mt 18:34). These torturers are such things as fear, loneliness, depression, frustration, anxiety, and self-hatred.

3. We cut ourselves off from receiving forgiveness (Mt 6:12, 15), healing (Sir 28:3), prayer (Mk 11:25), worship (Mt 5:23-24), and Christian community.

4. We lose our appetite for prayer, the Scriptures, the Mass, and Christian fellowship. We become spiritually anorexic.

5. If we persist in unforgiveness, we cut ourselves off from God forever and thereby damn ourselves.

14) How do I know if I have forgiven?

Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision. Moreover, forgiveness is not only praying for those who have hurt us or treating them politely. We know if we have made the decision to forgive when we show it in acts of love and mercy to those who have offended us. For example, the father of the prodigal son threw his arms around his son, kissed him, gave him gifts, honored him, and celebrated his return (Lk 15:20-24). By God's grace, we must go and do likewise. Even if the persons we need to forgive have died, we should give love and mercy to their family members.

Right now, decide to accept God's grace to forgive all who have sinned against you in any way. Say: "By God's grace, I decide to forgive ___ for ___." Fill in the blanks and repeat this statement until you have forgiven everyone who has ever offended you. Then thank Jesus forever for the miracle of forgiveness.

(For more teachings, order our pamphlet, Unforgiveness is the Cause.)


Nihil obstat: Rev. Edward J. Gratsch, July 29, 1996.
Imprimatur: † Most Rev. Carl K. Moeddel, Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, August 6, 1996.