But before I make my case for why not to say “Forgive me” to people, let’s talk about what forgiveness entails. It happens after an injustice has been committed–physically or relationally. A debt has been incurred; a crime committed. Forgiveness occurs when the victim decides to “drop the charges ” or “cancel the debt.”
Forgiveness is necessary for harmony to be restored, yet forgiveness, if it is granted, must be done willingly by the victim. It cannot be commanded or pressured. If I’m the perpetrator and I’ve wronged my neighbor, it’s not my place to demand that he drop the charges against me and let me off the hook. It’s not mine to insist that he cancel the debt I owe him. So saying, “Forgive me” seems presumptuous and self-serving. It smacks of entitlement, demanding that the wrong I did be dismissed.
So, even though forgiveness is required to make things right, demanding it is never appropriate, which is why this post discourages using the command, “Forgive me.” Like love, forgiveness cannot be pressured or forced.
However, when you’re the perpetrator, I’m not telling you to ignore the issue of forgiveness. It’s actually very good to state your need for forgiveness because it humbles you, shows your heart, and makes you beholden to the other person. You’re admitting that your inappropriate behavior makes you indebted to the other person–like writing an “IOU.” Stating your need for forgiveness relinquishes the power you had over the other person and it acknowledges that the other person holds the power to forgive you or not to.
Forgiveness, if granted, often takes time and likely will correspond to your demonstration of true repentance and your making proper amends.
“I hope that someday you’ll be able to forgive me for what I did” is a wonderful way to declare your need for forgiveness without pressuring the person to grant it immediately. Whether he or she chooses to forgive you is his or her responsibility.
If forgiveness is withheld or delayed, sure, it will negatively affect you. But remember you negatively affected that person first.
What about saying “Forgive me” to God?
I’ve been talking about asking people for forgiveness, but what about God? Didn’t Jesus command us in the Lord’s Prayer to say “Forgive us our sins?” Here are a couple of added reflections:
- Christianity teaches that Jesus’s death on the cross has already paid for the debt we owe God because of our sins. He has extended His offer of forgiveness to everyone who believes. So when we say “Forgive me” to God, we are not commanding Him to do something He doesn’t want to do. We are not ordering Him around. We are essentially claiming what He has already promised. We are taking Him at His word.
- The Lord’s prayer actually says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” It’s a statement that God ought to forgive us in accordance with how readily we forgive others. That should give us something to think about when we are the victim.