Can We Forgive Someone Before They Ask for it?

“I’ve lost count of the number of times some tragedy has occurred—a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, a drunk-driving fatality—and the victims or their relatives, usually Christians, start forgiving the offenders within hours or days of the crime. I understand the motive and the desire to present an attractive witness about Christian forgiveness to the world. But it is not a faithful witness to God. It does not reflect how God forgives, which is to be our pattern and model. Here’s why: God does not forgive those who do not want forgiveness. Here’s how God forgives:

1. God is willing, ready, and eager to forgive everyone. That’s His beautiful nature, His compassionate character, and His constant desire.

2. God offers forgiveness to everyone. God offers to release those who have offended Him from their deserved punishment and alienation from Him. There’s a big difference between offering it and giving it. Offering it is unconditional; giving it is conditional.

3. God does not forgive everyone regardless of the response to His offer. Although He offers forgiveness to all, not all respond. Some don’t even think they’ve done anything needing forgiveness.

4. God’s forgiveness is conditional on repentance (Luke 13:3; 17:3; Acts 2:38). God’s forgiveness is conditional on the offender’s wanting forgiveness and wanting to turn from his or her offending ways.

5. Forgiveness through repentance produces reconciliation on both sides. Offering forgiveness reduces the temperature of the conflict, but only the giving of forgiveness, in response to repentance, ends it.” -David Murray, The Happy Christian

BTW NOTE: I agree with these theological points about how God offers forgiveness, but I disagree with Murray’s argument that we can’t forgive before someone asks for it. Even if we use God as an example of this, the cross is the ‘material cause’ of our forgiveness, it is the moment when in principle God determines not to hold the sins of believers against them anymore–even though they have not yet asked for it. Thus, even with God’s forgiveness there is a ‘judicial act within the heart of God’ to forgive even before this forgiveness is experienced by both parties in the relationship.

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