What Does It Actually Mean to Forgive?

Today, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that God will only forgive us to the extent that we forgive others.

This is one of the hardest teachings of our faith, considering that we’re on a planet with 7 billion other sinners, all capable of hurting each other—sometimes horrifically.

What then, exactly, is forgiveness?

Does it tacitly condone a wrongful act?

Is it an attempt to sweep the hurt heaped upon us under the rug of “forgetting?”

Does it mean denying or minimizing the wounds that run deep into our heart and soul?

Is forgiveness an absence of justice?

Is it contingent upon reconciliation?


Saint Augustine defines forgiveness as letting go of our human desire for vengeance, saying, “it is not their death, but their deliverance from error, that we seek.” (source)

The Catechism further states that “it is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit . . . purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2843).

Ephesians 4:32 also tells us to forgive others as God forgives us: which is when we approach Him with repentance, fully admitting our wrongdoing.

We don’t always get repentance from others.

If we’ve forgiven, yet someone else refuses to acknowledge that they’ve hurt us, it can be difficult to restore or reconcile the relationship.

The wounds, the hurt may still run deep. They may take outside help and time—maybe even a lifetime—to heal, healing which only God and forgiveness can bring.

And in serious cases, justice is a necessary consequence for an injury or crime, even when we have forgiven. Or they do apologize, but what they did was really hurtful.

Forgiveness is indeed most powerful when we begin by acknowledging the full weight of others’ wrongful deeds, the depth of our wounds, and ask our merciful Lord to use our pain to inspire intercession for those who have hurt us—praying that their souls may be delivered from evil, and filled with His goodness and righteousness. When done this way it does not condone, minimize, or forget the action, but it says that while you were truly sinned against, you will love the person who hurt you anyway.

[Tweet “Love the person who hurt you anyway. // @PosImperfect”]

Who do you need to forgive? Ask God to help you surrender any lingering vengeance, so you may channel hurt toward prayers for the good of their soul.

Megan Hjelmstad is a wife and mom 24/7 and an Army Reservist in her “spare” time. She’s a bibliophile, tea drinker, sleep lover, and avid admirer of Colorado’s great outdoors. When the writing bug hits, you can find out more about her here.

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