Questions and answers

Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services

Year 2017


We often hear people say they find it difficult to forgive God for a trial in their lives, like an illness or the death of a loved one; or that they feel much better now that they have forgiven God. Is this way of speaking legitimate?

The problem is that to forgive implies that there has been wrongdoing. God, being pure love and goodness, does no one any wrong. He does not hurt us or make us suffer. Of course, on many occasions, He did not seem to have protected us from suffering. However, the Lord says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways…For the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55:8,9). We do not understand all that God does, all the circumstances He takes into account, how He respects the freedom of all those who surround us, and how He guides us, accompanies us, and protects us. All we can be sure of is that He does what is best and He does so with unconditional love and tenderness. So, is it right to speak about “forgiving” God?

The Bible never recounts instances of forgiving God. It does show many people, including true believers, even David and Jesus Himself, crying out to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1; Mk 15:34; Mt 27:46). However, even Job, after losing his wealth, his health, and his children and after long complaints and accusations about God and to God, does not forgive Him. When God reveals Himself to Job and shows him how mysterious His ways are, Job bows before God’s immensity and wisdom, and acknowledges, “I was the man who misrepresented your intentions with my ignorant words.” It is Job who asks for forgiveness for having accused God: “having seen you with my own eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes” (Jb 42:3, 5b-6).

Nonetheless, we do need to consider the psychology of forgiveness. We forgive not only objective wrongdoing but also perceived wrongdoing. A word we have not understood or a look we have misinterpreted sometimes causes us as much suffering as a truly malicious action against us. In these cases, we need to re-establish our trust in the person and our relationship with him or her. It may not be forgiveness in the strict sense of the word, but a theologian would say it is forgiveness in an “analogical” sense: it is not the same thing, but it resembles it. Moreover, it is the same process and has the same effects. When we wish to “forgive” in this wider meaning of the word, we need to do the same things we do when we forgive in the more narrow sense. We recognize we have been hurt, turn towards the person, make the choice to trust or love the person gratuitously as he or she is, accept that this process will take time—and in all that, ask for God’s help, because only He can enable us to forgive. Both types of “forgiveness” are part of a full reconciliation.

If this is true, then we can say the same about our relationship with God. Even though He does not harm us, we may feel as if He has done us wrong. We may think our suffering comes from Him or at least that He should have protected us more. In this case, the process of reconciling ourselves with God and restoring a full and deep relationship include this process of forgiveness in the analogous sense.

God Himself desires it, even if it is not fully fair to Him, in the same way as someone who loves us dearly hopes we forgive him even of things he did not do because he desires us to be in the deepest and most intimate relationship with him. This is precisely why the Scriptures show so many examples of people crying out to God to complain and even to accuse Him. God encourages this because it is the first step of reconciliation with Him: acknowledging we are hurt and turning toward Him. However “off track” the way of turning toward Him is, it truly is a first step that will allow us to restore the relationship.

Nonetheless, a true relationship calls for truth and transparency. Forgiving God for something of which we have accused Him always means asking Him for forgiveness (in the strict sense of the word) as well. Job shows us the way: we certainly need to “repent in dust and ashes” for our lack of trust, our false image of Him, and our difficulty in perceiving and acknowledging His goodness to us. Actually, this is true for our relationships with others as well. When we forgive someone, we often need to ask for forgiveness for our lack of understanding, for having blown things out of proportion, and for not having perceived the goodness that this person also has. So, in the end, yes, we can speak about forgiving God, if we realize that we are not using “forgiving” in the strictest sense of the word and, especially, if we ourselves repent and also ask God for forgiveness.

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