How to Forgive Someone When They Haven’t Apologized
There’s a drug we can inject into our own souls called unforgiveness. Its street name often goes by, “They owe me an apology.” It’s like shooting concrete into our veins, allowing each layer to harden our tender, loving hearts with resentment, bitterness, and feeling jaded. And over time, it weighs us down. It robs us of peace, joy, and the ability to love and trust others.
A life laced with the poison of unforgiveness is not the way God designed us to live. We are warned in Luke 21:34, “Be careful that you never allow your hearts to grow cold. Remain passionate and free from anxiety and the worries of this life…” Unforgiveness is a breeding ground for anxiety. Holding onto the way people have hurt us causes us to become distrusting and guarded, chained to the past. We’ve all felt these shackles of at some level. Someone hurt us, and we wrestle with the fallout of that until we can move past it. And usually, that is much easier when that person comes back with a sincere, heartfelt apology.
But what if they never apologize?
I mean, they owe us that much, right? It’s the least they can do for doing what they did to us. We’ve been wronged, and now the ball is in their court to make it right. And we are fully entitled to feeling the way we do until they make an effort to reconcile the situation or relationship.
At least, that’s what the world teaches us.
Our Bibles poses a valid challenge to that idea though in Ephesians 4:32b. The Passion Translation reads, “Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.”
And just like that, the script is flipped. Suddenly, forgiveness is more about us than it is about them. We have been graciously forgiven, therefore, we have what it takes to graciously forgive others.
Grace is unmerited favor. It means we didn’t deserve it. We could never earn it. He forgave us before we ever apologized for going our own way and hurting the heart of our loving Father God. The reality is this: we are not entitled to an apology.
1 John 4:19 TPT says, “Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us.” This is often said as we can only love because He loved us first. He loves us despite knowing our darkest, most undeserving moments. We get to do the same. We can freely let go of the things that wounded us and see people as fully forgiven, not forever in our debt until they apologize for what they did.
A grudge will drive us to our grave. And if even if it won’t physically kill us, it will kill our quality of life. A cold and hard heart cannot experience the fullness of life as God intended. A constantly re-opened wound will eventually get infected. Bitterness, rage, fear, isolation, hatred, anxiety… These are infections that can be fatal to your future. But God met us in our condition, sent His Son to the grave in our place, and released life abundantly with an extravagant display of forgiveness. He led the way.
Romans 5:8 says it this way: “But Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!” Lost and ungodly. Maybe that’s how you’ve felt about the person who did you wrong. Out of place, out of line, and not a good _________ (friend, ex, sister, brother, mom, dad, spouse–you name it).
God went so far outside of Himself to shore up our misses; to make things right in His eyes. Now, He lovingly invites us to do the same for those who have hurt us. We get a fresh start, totally forgiven for our mistakes, so that we can extend that forgiveness to others without them earning it through an apology. Because Grace is the currency of God’s economy. We do not “earn our cut” with apologies, and neither do those in our circle.
“And God has made all things new, and reconciled us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God. We are ambassadors of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world…” –2 Cor. 5:18-20a
This is an empowering reality. We have been supercharged by the revelation of Grace-based forgiveness to share it with those we do life with. Our ability to give others a clean slate in the truest parts of our heart, and practicing that over and over again, is one of the greatest expressions of Christ we can replicate in the world. Forgiveness on a human level is a beacon of hope, pointing others to the fullness of forgiveness found in Christ.
It begins with shifting our hearts out of an entitlement spirit and into a thankfulness for the forgiveness we’ve been shown. No one “owes” us an apology. There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s Grace, forgiveness, and freedom. When we get the posture of our heart in check, we can shed those calloused layers by the power of Christ at work in us. He can heal our wounds, restore our scars, and help us keep our heart soft towards those whose lives intertwine with ours–past, present, and future.
So how does this work exactly?
Release the unforgiveness weighing down your heart, whether “they” apologized or not. In the end, you’ll be the one either trudging through life heavy-hearted and hurting or free and full of peace and joy. Take some quiet time with God and ask Him to show you where you may still be holding onto the fallout of having been wronged by someone. If you can reconcile it with that person, be bold and do it. Ask God for Grace in doing so, so that they might have a personal revelation of the forgiveness and love God extends towards them. If circumstances keep you from being able to reconcile with the person, work it out as if you could in your heart. There may be tears and grieving, angry words journaled in a letter, closed wounds that reopen so that God can enter and bring true healing… But dear friend, it’s so worth it in the end. The darkness will pass, light will flood in those shadowy, painful places, and you’ll experience true freedom and lightheartedness again.
Allow Christ to bring resolution to the unresolved. He so deeply wants you to live from the overflow of His goodness, grace, and love with a soft heart and free spirit. Nothing is worth keeping you from that life when it’s the gift He has already given you.
Author: Amanda Zecher
Amanda Zecher is a West Coast girl adventuring on the East Coast. Fueled by coffee and chai tea lattes, this nomadic California native can be found exploring, creating, or day-dreaming. She is passionate about helping people discover and live up to their full God-potential through serving in communications and creative arts at Barefoot Church.