Forgiveness is Not a Feeling

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Isn’t it funny that an entire Spiritual revolution (the one called Christianity) can be founded upon the concept of forgiveness but the concept itself can be one of the most misunderstood concepts for those of us who are a part of the revolution? For so many in the Western church today, it may as well be written in Chinese (for those of you who actually read Chinese, my apologies, the illustration loses some punch with you).

Chinese symbol for forgiveness
Chinese symbol for forgiveness

Sometimes when I am counseling with someone about forgiveness, especially when it is someone who has been hurt deeply by another person, he/she will say something like this to me: “I know I need to forgive them, but I’m just not ready to forgive yet.” Most likely, what this hurting person is conveying with that comment is that he/she is not yet ready to start trusting that person again, because trust is a process and it takes time both to earn it and to give it. But I don’t think of forgiveness in that same way. As Christians, I think it is better for us to think of forgiveness as a promise. It is not something we wait to do, it is a commitment we make right up front, just as soon as the pain has occurred. That’s how God forgives us, and we are instructed to forgive others in the same way God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32).

I think too often we wait to forgive. We wait until it feels right to do so. But forgiveness (in the way the Bible describes it) is not a feeling at all. If we wait until we feel like forgiving, it will never happen.

Forgiveness is more about wiping away a debt. It is saying to a person, “You owe me nothing more…no money, no apology, no hugs, no sympathy cards, nothing…I really am no longer looking for any of that from you…you are released from any moral or ethical or legal obligations to me for this pain…as much as is possible, we are going to move forward now and I will not be holding this over you any longer, waiting to hit you on the head with it if you mess up again…I will not be keeping score because where I am concerned your slate is now wiped clean…I wish the very best for you and God’s blessings on you.” Forgiveness isn’t something we wait to feel, it is something we communicate to the person who hurt us irrespective of how we feel.

And it is hard to do. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. But it is not easy. This is why the very act of forgiveness tends to separate Christ’s church from the rest of the world. It is a distinguishing characteristic of Christ followers. We have been forgiven much, so we forgive.

So while trust may be a process, the promise of forgiveness is not. But though trust and forgiveness are two different things, there is a definite relationship between them. Making the promise of forgiveness is what triggers the beginning of the trust process. Without forgiveness, there can be no more trust. But once forgiveness is given, the process of trusting again begins. Forgiveness takes a broken relationship and places it back on track for the healing process to begin. It is the first step in the healing journey.

© Blake Coffee

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website:

5 responses to “Forgiveness is Not a Feeling”

  1. Andy Stanley wrote a book several years ago called “Like a Rock.” It was later re-released as “Louder Than Words.” There is a chapter about bitterness. He compares it to a Trojan horse in our lives. A force that if left to it’s own devices will eventually destroy us. He asserts that Forgiveness is a gift from God to protect us from bitterness and the havoc it can dole out. Through that discussion he says something very interesting. It goes something like this. “Our problem with forgiveness is that we feel like we are giving a gift to the person who hurt us, but that is not it at all. God is giving us a great gift to protect us.”

  2. This is a great post, which I quoted in my own blog. It reminds me to separate my decision to forgive from the feelings I may have.

    The way I see it is this: Make the decision. The feelings will follow.

    Blessings to you!

  3. This is the heart of The Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is the only facet that marks out Christianity from all other faiths. The Forgiveness referred to here is not just a glossing over but requires a positive action result – it’s not just overlooking things.

  4. The chinese character above is not ‘forgiveness”. It is the word for anger. Please do not mislead the world with your ignorance.

  5. AJ Kang: Thank you for your comment. It is important to me that I do not offend nor misrepresent anyone nor any language. I did actually research this symbol before using it. Nevertheless, I am teachable and open to correction. I do not speak nor write the Chinese language. Here are the sources I used in my research:

    Esther-Xiaohua Liu is a graduate student and teaching assistant with a major in Chinese Literature and Languages at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has taught Chinese at Shaanxi Normal University, Chang’an University and Xi’an Conservatory College in China. In the United States, Liu has taught Chinese to students at Northwestern University’s Xiling Chinese school and the Chinese American League of Chicago. She has also published many poems written in Chinese and in English. Here is a video of Esther-Xiaohua Liu teacing this symbol:

    After receiving your comment, I did check into the Chinese symbol for Anger. Here is what I found:

    Bo Feng is an experienced Chinese/English translator and interpreter. He has worked for Chinese International Travel Services, Lingnan Art Publishing House and Phillips Petroleum. Feng is also a practitioner of Chinese calligraphy and painting, producer of animated shorts, for which he has won a regional award at College Television Competition sponsored by the Academy of Television Arts and Science, in addition to being a web designer and internet marketer for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Currently, Feng is receiving an MA in Chinese candidate at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Feng has also earned an MA in Art and MFA in Computer Graphics, both from UMass Amherst. Here is a video of Bo Feng teaching the symbol for anger:

    If this is a “hot button” for you, then it no-doubt grieves you to see that the internet is literally covered with references to the Chinese symbol for forgiveness and they all seem to point to this same symbol I have used here. I am sorry for that, as it is obviously a source of pain for you. As I mentioned above, I am teachable. Just point me to a right source.

%d bloggers like this: