Forgiving the Unrepentant

How can I forgive someone who isn't sorry for what he's done? My father hurt me deeply when I was young. I've tried and tried to forget about this, but every time I think I've succeeded the pain jumps up and bites me again. Christian friends have told me that I need to forgive him-in my heart, unconditionally, without even discussing the situation with him. But I can't understand this. Yes, I know that we're supposed to forgive those who come to us with a repentant attitude (Luke 17:3, 4). But what about a person who isn't repentant? How can he receive something he isn't even asking for? Even God doesn't forgive us until we turn to Him and express a desire to receive His grace. What do you think I should do?

You really have no choice. Either you forgive or you slowly poison your mind and heart. If you hold on to unresolved bitterness it will destroy you. You can’t control your father’s actions and attitudes. But by God’s grace and with His help you must learn to control your own. If you choose not to forgive, you only hurt yourself.

That’s not to mention that there’s an important difference between the unconditional forgiveness Christ expects us to extend to those who have offended us (Matthew 6:14, 15) and the forgiveness we receive from God by asking for it and repenting of our sins. When it comes to our relationship with God, repenting and asking are aspects of believing. We know that the forgiveness of Christ cannot help us unless we lay hold of it by faith.

The same thing cannot be said about our human forgiveness. We offer this forgiveness to others purely in response to the grace we have already received from the Lord. If we are not willing to forgive, it is an indication that we have not fully understood or experienced the grace of being forgiven (see Luke 7:47). This is true regardless of the “offender’s” attitude towards his actions. Perhaps you can see the distinction we’re trying to make.

You didn’t explain precisely how your father hurt you. But that’s a very important piece of the puzzle. In certain instances it’s imperative to talk openly with someone else about the pain you’ve endured. If this was a case of sexual or physical abuse, or if the perpetrator of the “sin” in question is actually guilty of a crime, the law requires that you reveal your information in order to protect others. There are probably also good therapeutic reasons for getting your feelings out into the open with a trained counselor. But none of this precludes the need to forgive your father from the heart.

As we’ve already suggested, a professional Christian therapist can help you sort all this out in a healthy, non-threatening way. Call our Counseling department for a list of referrals to Christian counselors in your area. Our counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you over the phone.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Total Forgiveness

Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I?

Putting Your Past In Its Place

Beyond Betrayal

The Beautiful Struggle to Forgive (broadcast)

Hart Institute

Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living


Walking in Forgiveness

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