QUESTION: I am at a complete loss of understanding as to what forgiveness is. Allow me to explain: When God forgives sin, according to the bible it is in the following way:
1)" In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." Hebrews 9:22. So we see the in when God forgives it is with the shedding of blood
2) 1)" God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God". 2 corinthians 5:21. So God took our sins and Jesus turned into them according to this verse and many others.
3) Then Jesus (who now was our sin) died on the cross and our sins - which Jesus was, died along with him.
4) So God didnt just pardon our sins and say "I'll let them slide if you say im sorry and repent". What he did was to exact punishment (the punishment of Jesus and his death on the cross). He punished our sins, demanded bloodshed and killed them and THAT is how we are forgiven.
    My inability to understand forgiveness comes in here - When God wants me to forgive someone for a sin such as stealing from me, he certainly doesnt want me to shed blood and exact punishment on a cross by to before I forgive that perons sins.
     So I guess my question is - If I am forgiving sins, but Im not doing it the way God did it.....Then by what way am I forgiving them.
    I really need to understand this, I am totally baffled and have no idea what forgiveness really is.

ANSWER: The goal of forgiveness is not merely that on releases their anger and ceases to carry a grudge, but that the guilty party begging forgiveness and the one wronged from whom forgiveness is sought may be truly reconciled, and be able to resume normal relations with each other, whether as friends or family or fellow creatures or even between God and each human person.
The ceasing to hold a grudge part can always be done unilaterally, but reconciliation requires both persons.  A may forgive B by ceasing to hold any grudge against B, but if B is not repentance of whatever way he wronged (or wrongs) A then there can be no reconciliation.  The reconciliation therefore requires a desire for forgiveness (which in turn implies a repentance from whatever wrong was committed) coupled with a willingness on the part of the one wronged to allow relations to be restored.
You could almost flowchart this out, thus:

B wrongs A.  B has sinned and is in the wrong; A is innocent.

A chooses not to forgive B.  Now both are in trouble, B for the wrong he did to A, and A for his refusal to forgive B.

B is repentant and seeks forgiveness but A will not offer it.  B has cleared himself before his Maker, and A is now in trouble.

A forgives B but B is unrepentant for the wrong he did to A.  A has cleared himself before his Maker, but B remains in the wrong, and has also compounded his initial wrong with a new wrong.

A forgives B and B accepts forgiveness, but A has merely let go of the grudge but remains unreconciled, wanting nothing further to do with B.  B has cleared himself before his Maker, but A is now in trouble for not completing the process of forgiveness.

A forgives B who accepts it, but B makes no effort to reconcile with A though A is willing.  A has cleared himself before his Maker and B is in trouble for not completing the process of forgiveness.

A forgives B who accepts it and does whatever he can to reconcile to A, who accepts that and is reconciled.  A and B have both done well and resume their friendship, problem resolved.

It should be easy enough to picture yourself in such a scenario.  Suppose you wronged a friend, and now you want their forgiveness.  It is not enough that they will cease to hold a grudge against you, they must seek to restore the friendship you formerly had by giving you some opportunity to "make it up to them" in some way, even if inadequate, and to accept what you do towards that end.  You for your part show your good faith, that your repentance for the wrong is real, by making it up to them in the manner specified.  Once done and accepted, the two of you are only now truly friends again.
Or picture it this way.  You confess your sins to the priest and he, seeing you sincere and truly repentant for all your sins, absolves you, then adding, "and for your penance say ten Hail Mary's and make a good Act of Contrition," all of which you then do.  So the penance does not mean that the absolution is not real or complete, but rather that it is real.  Were the priest to "retain" your sins (if he does not see any repentance for them, or knows of some serious sin you are refusing to confess), then he does not absolve and gives no penance.  The lack of a penance is therefore not a good sign, as if you've done no wrong, but rather a bad sign, that forgiveness is not given (hence, no absolution).
That said, much of the same also applies to our direct relationship with our Maker.  But what can we do directly for Him?  He is not a man among ourselves such that we can give Him money or fix his car.  The purpose of that blood sacrifice is how that would be done.  Under the Israelite Law this was done by taking the best animal of our flock and offering it (and its blood, which stands for its life) to God on the Altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus Christ fulfilled that Himself with His sacred Life and Blood (of infinite value) on the Cross, so we no longer need slaughter some animal, but instead tie in to the efficacy of that once for all time Sacrifice.  It is that tie-in that enables the usual penances imposed to suffice as our "what we can do to make it up" part that God accepts as His sign that He has indeed forgiven our sins.  God shows His continued friendship to us in that He offers an opportunity to us to "make it up to Him" with the paltry offering of whatever (usually quite nominal) penance the priest sees fit to impose, all on the strength and efficacy of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, and we for our part resume that friendship with God by humbly accepting our penance, doing it as promptly as reasonably possible.
So the real difference here is that between the horizontal relation we have with our fellow creatures here on earth versus the vertical relation we have with our Maker.  God alone is worthy of worship or adoration (in the theological sense), and worship requires sacrifice where praise and veneration do not.  Bloodless sacrifices (such as grains or oil or wine) are sufficient for worship that does not entail a request for forgiveness of our sins, but is required for what worship is connected with our request to be forgiven our sins, because sin is such a heinous thing.
Since worship is not how humans are permitted to relate to each other, the things we would offer to those requesting our forgiveness to "make it up to us" do not entail any shedding of blood but other lesser yet more practical means.

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QUESTION: Thank you for that very good explanation - I would like to explore this as deeply as possible. A question I have for you is that; lets take it to the extreme - you have a long term friend and you find out he is molesting your child. You manage to forgive him, but you obviously dont want to continue the relationship. Must you continue the relationship in order to complete the process of forgiveness - and most importantly, where did you find this in the bible?

Remember, the other person has to want to repent.  In some cases like this (I would assume that the molesting was going on without your knowledge) a true repentance would require being willing to keep some distance, since the presence of this person could be a major disruption to the child.  And they can probably owe a great deal, such as accepting a jail sentence.  If they turn themselves in and went to jail as part of how truly sorry he is for what he did, I most certainly could see visiting him in prison on a regular basis.
But remember, this difference is driven by practical factors, primarily their ability to have lied to you or concealed something this important.  Trust is broken, and may never be repaired (or it might, who knows?), since you might not know if they started it back up again later on.  But despite these practical considerations, true forgiveness still works the same way, as I outlined.  And if they are not truly repentant, then it is morally sufficient on your part to let go of any grudge and leave it at that.
I do not know any place where the full nature of forgiveness (or love or patience, etc.) is ever described or explained in detail in the Bible; it appears that those who wrote and read it already understood what the words mean.


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Griff Ruby


I focus on the "why" and "how" questions of the Faith and one`s need for the Church to overcome sin, live the life God wishes us, and to become what God wants us to be. I seek to provide insight and information such that you are then able to see for yourself the answer to your questions.


Years of extensive research, thought, and prayerful meditation on many of the issues that trouble Catholics today, taught catechetical classes to teenagers and adults, answered many questions already.

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