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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

02 July 2006

Forgiveness and Feelings

Q: I’ve been hurt by someone who sinned against God and against me. She says that she knows that God forgives her even though she doesn’t feel guilty. Can people be forgiven if they feel no sense of guilt or remorse for their sins?

A: Some people’s feelings seem more independent of the conditions in which they find themselves than do those of others. Thus, they operate more in the realm of thought or belief than emotion. Guilt is actually a state of being even more than a feeling — the feeling is an internal reaction to a certain condition. Guilty feelings often come to certain people without any true guilt, or in they appear or continue long after something is forgiven and in the past.

Prodigal SonSatan uses our feelings to drive us away from a merciful God; he makes a person feel that he is too sinful to deserve anything from God. This is wrong, since none of us deserves anything good, and only receive it by grace. However, it still happens. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and his forgiving father, the son came home without expecting anything more than being made a servant. However, his father fully forgave him and restored his sonship.

At other times, the reverse seems to be the case: People don’t feel particularly sinful, even while participating in gross wrongdoing. If this is the case, they may not realize that they have done anything wrong.

However, this person says that she knows she has done wrong. She claims to trust in God’s forgiveness. Remorse, while a part of repentance, is not the chief part. She might have already worked through these feelings. Thus, I would take her statement at face value unless her actions or words contradict her. She may have known she was wrong and sought forgiveness without ever feeling particularly sinful.

In any case, to withhold forgiveness from one who asks for it is to stand in judgment and to invite God’s judgment on yourself. I pray that you are able to completely forgive and fully reconcile with her.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger solarblogger said...

I am with Pastor Snyder on the need to forgive people who confess and seek forgiveness. But they way your post was written, I had to wonder if the confession part was skipped over.

Did you feel like the person acknowledged wrongdoing? Or was the sorrow of the shape, "I'm sorry that you feel bad and I want it to stop because it makes me uncomfortable"? Some people want to be forgiven in a vague way where they never say they did anything wrong. They just want to be able to "move forward." (That expression is often a red flag.)

Then again, some people are just very limited in what they're able to articulate. Or they're used to an admission on their part being the starting point for a tirade from the other person.

I'm for receiving even bad apologies, as long as they're on the right subject. If you ask "What did you want to be forgiven for?" they should at least be able to name it, and not just stammer out, "You know. The thing. Whatever it is that has you angry."

07 July, 2006 19:28  

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