RT Kendall’s book used to be considered the classic textbook for Christians on forgiveness. One of his main arguments was that forgiveness was primarily about the heart attitude of the offended. One of his key bits of advice was that if someone had offended you and you had truly forgiven them then you would not need to go and tell them that they were forgiven, especially if they did not realise they had offended you.
Well, there is a little bit of sense in that. We can do without people coming up to us and telling us that 3 years ago we really upset them but now we are forgiven. As RT Kendall suggests, this may be as much about the person still needing in someway to inflict an emotional punishment.
However, based on what we have seen in our articles here and Steve Kneale’s on his blog, I want to gently suggest that Kendall is not quite right. What he is describing is not forgiveness. It may be about a person learning to put away hurt, anger and bitterness but it is not forgiveness and there has been no repentance.
Now, it is worth thinking here about what is going on. You see, if I find myself deeply offended and upset about something and the other person has no idea, then one of two things is at work here. Either, they are the sort of person who is absolutely oblivious to the hate and distress they cause. This suggests a lack of alertness, a lack of care. In other words, there is a negligence here that amounts to sin. In which we are not doing anyone, ourselves, them or other people they are likely to have hurt any favours by keeping stum. In fact, by failing to give them the opportunity to recognise their problem and repent, we are not truly loving them.
In Matthew 18, we are specifically commanded by Jesus to go and see someone if they have sinned against us. Kendall’s advice was not merely unhelpful, it was also unscriptural. True forgiveness seeks out reconciliation and restoration.
On the other hand, if the person upset us, has not idea they did it and we genuinely think that we should not tell them, then it is highly likely that this isn’t a matter for forgiveness at all. If they did not seek to cause harm and are not just naturally offensive people, then they haven’t sinned against us. Rather, the problem is with me. Here I am holding on to a grudge when there is nothing to hold onto. I might need to take a bit of a reality check about why I got so uppity with them.
True forgiveness is founded upon repentance because the aim is for genuine reconciliation. It is about the dealing with of real wrongs and a willingness to love one another for the better.