How Do You Forgive Someone When They Aren’t Sorry?

I spent much of my childhood years growing up in Nebraska. I got to experience the Nebraska Huskers football program win three national championships within my first four years. While the past quarter of a century hasn’t been as kind to the Huskers, the history of this program is ridiculous. It has 905 total wins, making it the seventh most wins of any program. ESPN’s College GameDay analysts call the Husker fanbase the best in the nation, citing their loyalty, sportsmanship, and knowledge.[34] They have the current, (and still ongoing), record of 390+ consecutive sellouts.[35] On game days, the attendance in Memorial Stadium would make it the third-largest populated city in the entire state.[36]

Much of the success or failure of a college football team falls on the coach. For over 36 years, Nebraska was fortunate to have two Hall-of-Fame coaches: Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. However, when Tom Osborne left the coaching position in 1997, the program has never quite bounced back to the prominence that it once had. Since 1997, it’s had six different head coaches.

The other day, I ran into a fan that didn’t care for one of those coaches. She believed that his tenure put the football program back many years. Because of how vital the program is not only to the state, but her personally, I remember hearing the words out of her mouth: “I will never be able to forgive (coach’s name).” I know her well enough to know that while she wasn’t 100% serious, there was a tinge of truth in it.

Her phrase got me thinking.

If she is holding un-forgiveness, who is that still affecting?

It’s not affecting the coach. The former coach doesn’t even know who my friend is. He has already found another job and moved on. For various reasons, I’m fairly certain that the coach will never say the words “I’m sorry” to my friend.

While this is a silly example, it points to a reality that we will deal with in this world: Sometimes there have been wrongs done to us or that have affected us from a person we will never hear a word of confession from or experience any act of contrition on their part.

Every sin is unique. Therefore, every act of forgiveness will be unique.

Jesus reminds us that because we are His followers, we do not operate with the same standards of those in this world. He says in John 18:36 NLT, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

It is unwise for Christians to hold non-Christians to the standards of the Christian faith. While we wish that every person would sign up to follow Jesus, it’s not the reality. Therefore, because we have a different worldview, there are times in which we will not agree on whether a particular action or inaction is even a sin. There are some offenses done against us that we think are sinful that others will disagree with.

What do we do when our offender isn’t sorry?

The Christian faith is about trusting God. Sometimes this trust in God means doing what He’s called us to do, no matter the outcome. It’s why we preach the Gospel and proclaim the Good News even though not all will receive it. It’s why, in faith, we proclaim healing in a person’s life even if we don’t see the healing result. It’s why we pray even when we don’t see God move, and it’s why we choose to forgive others in all circumstances.

Here’s the truth about following God:

Obedience is our responsibility. Outcome is God’s responsibility.

Let’s return to the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Paul is declaring that we are to do as much as we can — and go as far as possible — to pursue peace and reconciliation. There are times, though, when even doing as much as you can and going as far as you can, it still will not change or affect the person on the receiving end.

There are times when it simply isn’t possible to live at peace with everyone. For example, situations where abuse, molestation, and violence are occurring are times when it’s impossible to live at peace. Situations like these require wisdom from God. Many times, this wisdom results in putting up healthy boundaries to protect the innocent and defenseless.

You can’t control the actions, feelings, or emotions of others… but you can control your response. Remember, forgiveness is not about controlling the other person the way that you want them to; forgiveness is about you letting go of the offense, no matter how your offender responds.

My wife, Allison, shared an incredible story related to this truth in “Forgiving Challenge Kids.”

Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted of a murder he never committed and was put on death row. Anthony sat in silence and misery. He hated his life and was angry, but after three years he accepted that this was going to be his life. He decided that as long as he was on death row, he would find a new way to live.

Anthony was wronged by many in this process. Sadly, the system and the people involved in the system who wronged him wouldn’t listen; they wouldn’t change. Long before he got out of prison, he decided that he would change his own life despite their response. He chose to bring happiness to others, remembering that God loves and forgives him.

According to Anthony’s book, “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” he faced the jury during his trial and told them:

“Jesus was prosecuted, accused falsely for things he didn’t do, and all he did was try to love and save this world, and he died and suffered. So if I have to die for something I didn’t do, so be it. My life is not in the judge’s hands. My life is not in your hands, but it’s in God’s hands.”

Anthony not only changed his own life, but he worked to improve the lives of 54 other inmates around him who were also on death row.

Twenty-eight years later, in 2015, justice finally came late; Anthony was found innocent.

Anthony could have been very bitter when he got out of prison. After all, he spent 28 years in jail for something he never did. Instead, he would continue to forgive the people who falsely accused him — Incredible!

He could only forgive because he knew Jesus had forgiven him. Jesus set him free long before the courts did.

When we hold onto un-forgiveness, we will continue to live in bondage. The sins of others against us can hurt us at the time of the offense and continue to bring harm to us when we choose not to forgive. Anthony’s story shows us that we can experience freedom when we let go of the offenses of others.

When others don’t see they are wrong, don’t understand your perspective, or simply can’t or won’t ever admit their fault, trust that Jesus sees you. He knows you’ve been wronged. He empathizes with you. Even if injustices against you never get settled in this world, trust in God’s justice. Know that you will be greatly rewarded in heaven for any offenses that you forgive in this world.

Are you living with peace today with all of your offenders?

If not, say this prayer today:

“Dear Jesus, I am sorry for all of my sins.
Those of which I know and those of which I don’t know.
I am a sinner and you are my Savior. I receive your forgiveness for all my sins.
Out of the grace you have won for me, I choose not to let the sins of others hold me back any longer.
I am letting go of the offense, no matter how my offender responds.
As I let go of this offense, hold me ever tight. Help me live in the freedom that you have won for me. Amen.”

[34] Schulte, Brandon. “ESPN’s commentators call Husker fans best in the nation.” Web. Accessed 1 Oct 2021.

[35] “Wikipedia – Memorial Stadium (Lincoln)” Web. Accessed 1 Oct 2021.

[36] “The Boneyard – The Official Student Section of Husker Athletics.” Web. Accessed 1 Oct 2021.