I’ve had to forgive people who were not sorry quite a few times. If you are going through this right now, I empathize with you. Forgiveness is not easy to begin with but when the offender is not sorry, it’s even more difficult. It’s hard, painful, and it doesn’t always make sense.
I don’t want to bore you with cliches because you’ve probably heard most of them by now. However, I will share one of my real and personal experiences with this and a few things I have learned along the way.
Being the outsider coming in
When I was in the sixth grade, I was suddenly moved to a new class in the middle of the school year where I didn’t know anyone at all. Everyone in the class was close since they already had a few months to bond and get to know each other. I, on the other hand, was the outsider coming in.
Now, typically, this could have gone two ways. They could have welcomed me or they could have ignored me. While being ignored and isolated would have been tough in of itself, they chose a third option. They bullied me.
She led and the others followed suit.
Truth be told, the bullying was led by one girl and the rest of the class followed her lead. Let’s call her Kate. Kate was often mean and condescending towards most of the other kids. She and her group of friends would refer to kids who didn’t fit within her personal standards as lame. The kid who wore glasses was lame. If you didn’t have the coolest clothes, you were lame. If you were too good at school, you were lame. It wasn’t uncommon for them to randomly target a victim and make demeaning jokes about them.
Up until then, I was fairly safe from Kate’s verbal attacks. But, when I switched classes, the teacher tragically placed me across from her. Then, it started and spiraled out of control. She called me names, gave me dirty looks, and pitted the rest of the class against me. They would make mean jokes about me and laugh when I walked into the room. Sadly, even girls I thought were my friends suddenly turned against me and joined in as she slandered me.
The words she spoke pierced deep into my heart.
“I wish you would die.”
“You’re so ugly.”
“Why do you wear the same clothes every day?”
How could I believe the truth about myself when all I heard was lies? I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw. I hated my hair, my nose, my lips. I despised everything that made me unique and beautiful all because of hurtful words planted into my heart by a young girl who clearly did not define me. I cried myself to sleep most nights and wondered why God didn’t make me beautiful.
This all happened around the same time I started to really take my faith seriously. I knew that forgiveness was important. Honestly, I wanted to forgive and move on. But, it was so hard. I said a prayer before bed each night, trying to forgive. But, the next day I’d walk into the classroom to see her hateful eyes once more.
How can you forgive when the offender is not sorry and continues to hurt you? If you’re asking that question right now, I get it. I really do.
While I didn’t have the full answer back then at twelve years old, I’ve learned a few things over the years.
Before we can dive into the how, let’s debunk some myths about forgiveness.
1. Forgiveness means that it stops hurting.
Many people say that if you still feel the pain of what you went through, then you haven’t really forgiven. That’s not true. Jesus was on the cross, feeling the sword pierce his side and still cried out, “Father, forgive them.” Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean the pain goes away.
2. If you don’t feel like doing it, it’s not forgiveness.
This isn’t true either. In a wonderful article on Bible Study Tools, Mark Altrogge says, “Forgiveness is a decision of the will to absorb the pain or consequences caused by someone’s sin and not require them to repay.” Forgiveness is a decision. You may not feel like doing it, and that’s okay. It’s a decision to pardon someone’s sin against you and not require them to pay for it.
3. Forgiveness requires reconciliation.
Forgiveness does not always require reconciliation. Sometimes it’s best to keep yourself at a distance from the person who offended you. You can forgive someone without trusting them again. Trust is earned based on history with an individual. If they broke your trust in the past, you don’t have to trust them again right away or even ever.
Does an offender have to apologize before being eligible for forgiveness?
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.Mark 11:25
Truthfully, I was a bit puzzled about this. When I think of forgiveness and salvation, I know that repentance is necessary. Otherwise, everyone on earth would be saved and forgiven of their sins. However, I also know that Jesus teaches us to forgive those who sin against us. He never qualifies his teaching by saying, “If they apologize..” It’s simply, forgive as your Heavenly Father has forgiven you.
Interestingly enough, the greek word for “forgive” here in this verse is aphiemi. It means “to leave, to let go, to send forth, or let be.”
So, no, an offender does not have to apologize to be eligible for this kind of forgiveness. This kind of forgiveness does not necessarily include reconciliation.
This kind of forgiveness means that you let the offender go. I think the implication is that you send them away so that they no longer cause a root of bitterness in your heart. It doesn’t mean that the sin they committed against you is pardoned, it means that you choose to let it out of your hands.
How do you forgive someone who isn’t sorry?
Well, I don’t know how this looks in every situation but I’ll tell you what it looks like for me. First, I start praying.
Fast forward a few years after the bullying incident, I had to forgive someone else who was not sorry. Let me tell you, this one was even more difficult than the last. At first, my heart was filled with bitterness. But, I learned how to present my bitterness to God. After all, he knows how to deal with it best.
God loved my offender as much as he loved me.
I really wanted to get even and do whatever I could to make myself feel better. But God said no. I was so upset wondering, “God, why?” But then he reminded me that vengeance belonged to him, not me. So then, I sat around waiting for God to avenge me. But, that was the wrong attitude to have. When God told me that vengeance belonged to him, it meant that at his own will he could choose to show anger or compassion towards my offender. I started to think about how much I had sinned against God in the past and how he still loved me so much. It dawned on me that even though God was deeply grieved by what happened, he loved the person who hurt me just as much as he loved me.
So, for the sake of gratefulness to God for the way he loves me, I asked him to help me forgive. If God could forgive me over and over again, I knew I could forgive the person who hurt me.
You forgive someone who isn’t sorry by simply praying and asking God to help you. Listen, this isn’t something you can do in your own strength. You need the power of God to help you forgive. So pray every single day and ask God to help you. Ask him to help you see this person the way he sees them. Ask him to help you to love and have compassion on them.
You need the power of God to help you forgive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the pain will automatically disappear. Forgiveness is a part of healing but it isn’t the only requirement for healing. The “wound” may still hurt long after you forgave. While the choice to forgive is your part, it’s God’s part to change your heart towards the person. If you come to him with a sincere heart, he will help you.
Finally, if you’re walking through this, please know that I empathize with you deeply. I know it’s not easy. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, it made me free of bitterness and anger, two things that can quickly destroy us.
Before I close, I want to lead you in prayer.
Prayer to forgive someone who isn’t sorry
Lord, I come before you now with my heart open. I come surrendered at your feet, laying down my hurt and the pain I’ve been carrying for so long. I ask that you would help me to forgive the person who hurt me. Lord, it’s hard because they have expressed no remorse for what they’ve done. But, Lord, as you forgave me when I was unworthy, help me to forgive those who don’t deserve it. Change my heart towards this person, Lord. Free me from anger and bitterness. Help me to let them out of my heart. Heal me Lord.
In Jesus’ name, amen.