Don’t demand forgiveness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Have you ever been manipulated into saying or doing something you felt was wrong? How often have people used “spiritual” means to do that manipulation? Subtle twists of wording can turn a good thing into a weapon. Here’s an example:

“I am sorry. Do you forgive me?”

You may wonder what’s wrong with that. In fact, many of us were taught to apologize that way. It is so common, especially among people from the church. We make a simple apology then expect the other person to forgive. Well, I am calling that manipulation.

Think about it like this. Someone hurts you. You have experienced shame or loss, perhaps embarrassment, because of what they did. They get the message that you are upset, so they say, “I’m sorry.” Then they quickly turn the tables to you. You were the one who was hurt. Now, you are supposed to release them from the offense. If you don’t, or if you don’t want to, you have become the offender. Now, that person is hurt. Their offense is somehow instantly forgotten, and you are now in the wrong.

I have watched this. I have experienced this. I have seen “counselors” use this as a way to rebuild a relationship. I have heard parents demand forgiveness from their children, pastors demand forgiveness from their parishioners, and spouses demand forgiveness from the ones they are supposed to love. “Billy, he said he is sorry, so you had better forgive him!”

Notice how weak the apology is? You have probably heard this kind of apology. Did it help? Did it seem real? Did it communicate an honest regret for the action or words? Did you feel like your pain was understood and accepted? No, probably not.

Instead, the pain you suffered was marginalized. The real issue became your willingness to forgive and treat the other person as though nothing happened. Blame the victim. Shift the focus. But done with “spiritual superiority.”

No. The offender has no right to demand forgiveness from the victim. And, listen, if you don’t see the one you hurt as a victim of your offense, then you aren’t ready to apologize. The words, “I’m sorry,” just add another layer to the offense if they are not sincere.

Even if you are sorry, you can’t bind your victim with your desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. That belongs to them. If you see that you have hurt someone, identify the offense and apologize sincerely. Then step back. Don’t demand or expect anything. You can hope. You can pray for that person you hurt. But you can’t lay another burden on them. Let God bring healing in His own way and time.

This is a common technique of abusers. To cause hurt and then give a meaningless apology and expect forgiveness. They want the door to be open to hurting again. The victim is abused by the first offense and by the expectation.

Your goal, as you apologize, should never be to move the other person to do anything. Again, their response belongs to them. Your goal is to reveal your own heart, to humbly identify with the pain you caused, and take responsibility for it. Anything more just reveals that you are more concerned with yourself than with the person you hurt.

And, believe me, it never works anyway. Someone who is forced into speaking a word of forgiveness has not forgiven. They may be giving up the right to judgment or repayment, but they have not forgiven. They have been quieted, and that’s a goal worthy only of an abuser.

I do know how popular this kind of “apology” has become in the church. It seems right—sort of. There’s something about it that sounds spiritual. But it is still manipulative and unfair. Don’t do it.


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3 responses to “Don’t demand forgiveness

  1. Helen

    It seems to me that nouthetic counseling, widely embraced among modern churches, really lowered the bar for what passes as confession. Just a few words is fine (no heart change needed) and voila, forgiveness is required. This involves three promises: I won’t dwell on the offense, will never bring it up again, and won’t tell anyone else. This is for offenses great and small. It is evident who is to do the heavy lifting in this scenario.

    Your approach is much more realistic, healing, grace-filled, and fits with what I know of scripture.

  2. Pamela Kay

    This is very excellent !! I so appreciate this very meaningful post. What deep insight. Thank you, Pastor David. Shalom Blessings….

  3. Laurie

    This brought me back to the old Bill Gothard days. I remember he taught people how to apologize and you were supposed to say, ‘will you forgive me?’ It was a nightmare of teaching manipulation tactics. I’m still struggling separating gothardism from christianity. One of the keys i have figured out is the lack of grace in gothard’s teaching– especially towards women.

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