Complaints around forgiveness

By Dave Henning / March 4, 2023

“What lies behind this conflict over forgiveness?  All the complaints around forgiveness assume definitions and models of it that indeed can be problematic.  It is not enough, then, to simply call people to be more forgiving.”- Timothy Keller

In Chapter 2 (“The Fading of Forgiveness’) of Forgive, Timothy Keller critiques the three current models of forgiveness.

 1.  Pressure to Nonconditionally Forgive.  In this cheap grace model, people advise the offended person to let go of his/her anger, to forgive and forget.  Most significantly, the pressure to blindly forgive can keep people stuck and unsafe.  Especially within church teaching.

Therefore, a call to forgiveness without conditions equates to a cheap grace.  Because the power differential between the abuser and the abused remains unchanged.  In addition, no justice is pursued.  The only real concern centers on the victim’s healing.

 2.  Pressure to Transactionally Forgive.  Also called ‘earned’ forgiveness, at first glance this model looks like a good compromise between the other two current models.  The bitterness of the no-forgiveness position and the seeming injustice of nonconditional forgiveness.

However, merited or earned forgiveness (little grace) serves as a way to exercise power over the offender.  A skillfully hidden way to pay people back and gain control.  In other words, revenge masquerading as virtue.  In the end, this inquisitorial and disciplinary approach functions as a gauntlet.  The wronged parry forces the perpetrator to run through the gauntlet until sufficiently wounded.

Hence, the wrongdoer must earn forgiveness through extensive acts of reparation for the victim to give up anger.

3.  Pressure to Not Forgive at All.  Because the first two culturally dominant models possess shortcomings, pressure builds to not forgive at all.  For it seems morally inappropriate to forgive evil.  So, this no grace model completely abandons forgiveness to pursue justice for the victim.

In conclusion, Pastor Keller stresses, all three models lack a vertical dimension.  As a result, they contrast with the Bible’s costly grace model of forgiveness.  Because the biblical model contains both a horizontal and a vertical dimension.

Today’s question: What complaints around forgiveness do you observe?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: Modern western culture – forgiveness”

About the author

Dave Henning

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