The Limits of Forgiveness: Part II

3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Luke 17:3-4, NRSV

We're unpacking the "limits" of forgiveness. Yesterday we talked about the fact that Jesus' vision of forgiveness applies to those who stand in God's community. The second limit is this:


The passage says, “…if there is repentance, you must forgive.” Is it true, then, that a lack of repentance does not oblige us to forgive? It's unclear to me how much to read into this because I believe the most fundamental point being made is that we remain ever open to forgive those who repent (in community). Remember this instruction is to people who are in community together. This instruction that obligates forgiveness, then, is a secondary limitation (because you are only obliged to follow this procedure in community).

But, all the same, it is certainly possible that a lack of repentance does not oblige us to forgive. Repentance itself may be a limitation of forgiveness in in community relationships.

A word of caution: It's important how we use this information. It's probably not a great idea to use these limitations as excuses or loop holes. I'm pointing out these limitations not so that we can get off the hook, but so that we can stop shaming ourselves for how difficult forgiveness can be. These limitations help us see that there is not something wrong with us when we struggle to forgive. It is so often the case that it is forgiveness itself that has limits, and not that we are "bad" at forgiving.

If we've been wronged, there may be a great deal of shame that comes with that. If we've been wronged, and we cannot "forgive" (in our culture's definition), then we're living in the shame of being a person who is wronged and the shame of being a "bad" forgiver. That just is not right.