On of the biggest issues i have had with easily forgiving is because of some (ill advised?) thought that doing so automatically exempts the person from punishment, i know its naive, but when one is young, that would be the best one could do. But i think that this may not be the case. I read in a christian leaders webpage (iv since lost the link to the page) that refusing to forgive because of some form of fear that the other party will sort of get away with it 'reveals a flawed eschatology' he argued since even Christ when just about to be crucified asked Peter to put back his sword, since if he saw fit, Christ would have asked for angels. From this he argued that we do not necessarily have to think the person will not be punished to forgive, rather we are letting God deal with punishing them. (Im talking about dealing with unforgiveness of major events, stuff that we may struggle with over long periods).

What does it mean (or involve) to forgive?

1. Let them of the hook so they do not get punished.
2. Let them off the hook so God is the one to punish them.
  • mike, I think it doesn't mean (1) nor (2), but, anyway, there is no real reason that make we think of such complex an argument. Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 20:27
  • 2
    @ Mike Jesus said in Matthew 6:14 and 15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. He also said in Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. So the real key is repentance, and if you repent but do not forgive anyone who has repented the wrong against you, do you have the right to expect God to forgive you?
    – BYE
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 21:35
  • but what happens to our expectation of justice? does forgiveness imply we let go of any desire for God to deal with them for their actions?
    – mike
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 22:10
  • Welcome to the site. As you're a new visitor, I'd like to recommend the following posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page, How we are different than other sites? Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 23:45
  • @ Mike Again should you expect God to be more generous to you than you are to others?
    – BYE
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 23:50

2 Answers 2


I'd say that we forgive each other in order to more closely imitate Jesus. It doesn't have to do with letting them off the hook, nor do I believe it necessarily means we expect God to judge them later.

From Matthew 18:21-22,

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Here Jesus' response was meant to indicate that our forgiveness towards each other should be endless.

And I feel more directly from John 13:34-35,

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."


Firstly, I don't think forgiveness means complete absolution from justice (just to clarify some definitions). I think it means absolution from any form of revenge, redemptive violence, punishment for its own sake, etc. We can forgive someone for a violent act, but if they are likely to continue their violence that doesn't mean allowing them to freely do so. We can forgive someone for a sin, but if they do not seek reconciliation nor repent, then (I think) justice can come in the form of protection and rehabilitation.

Protective and even rehabilitative measures may be perceived as punishment, but can be done out of love rather than hate (though this can be a very difficult distinction when emotional extremes are at play). Imprisonment, isolation, excommunication where there is no sign of repentance—sometimes it can be better to end relationships or leave communities where our own failings mean reconciliation is impossible, unwanted, or risks much more serious damage than going separate ways, for example.

In such cases, there may be forgiveness along-side what is perceived to be punishment. But I would argue that only if said 'punishment' is purely for protection and rehabilitation; not when the punishment is purely for its own sake.

I don't think we've truly forgiven someone if we're holding out for God (or society) to punish them. If we're holding onto the idea that they will be punished for their actions, that some justice remains to be served beyond protection and reconciliation/rehabilitation, then what have we really forgiven? It's probably better than nothing; a tool to alleviate one's own desire to carry out acts of revenge or punitive redemption, but if we still wish punishment and suffering on a person then we do not love them, we have not forgiven them.

I suspect some will take issue with my understanding, because of e.g. 'turning the other cheek', but my understanding of that concept is a shaming of the oppressor as a way of non-violent resistance, an alternate way of confronting the powerful, rather than completely passive, immediate and unquestioning forgiveness (which is not in itself resistive, does not challenge an unjust society, nor speak truth to power).

  • This is a brilliant explanation, its that part of differentiating between complete absolution and absolution from punishment for its own sake. I never really got to understand that part. Got a link to some book that expounds on this difference in details?
    – mike
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 14:56
  • I would recommend Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink. I don't think there's any single/best answer or explanation, but it provides one point of view which I've found interesting & helpful. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 5:35

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