Can We Ask God to Make Someone Forgive Us?
By Denise Kohlmeyer, Crosswalk.com
As a fallen person living in a fallen, damaged world, it’s inevitable that at some time in your life, you will sin against someone, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. And, depending on the depth and hurtfulness of your sin—if it’s repetitive, such as lying or stealing, or if it’s uber-egregious, like adultery—the offended person has a choice to make: to forgive or not to forgive.
This could leave you in a quandary. What do you do if they choose not to forgive? You need forgiveness in order to make things right with this person. Can you force forgiveness out of them? Can you ask God to make them forgive you? You could do both, but that is not the wisest or most biblical way of going about seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with a person you’ve hurt. Neither that person nor God can be strong-armed into doing something simply because you demand it.
So, how can you get someone to forgive you?
First, let’s define what biblical forgiveness is in order to understand why you need it, why it needs to be given by the offended person, and how to go about getting it.
Forgiveness means “to let go, to release” someone from the wrongdoing—whether it was physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual—they caused you. It’s to cancel or pardon a debt owed. It’s the crucial first step in possibly being reconciled (relationally restored) with them again. However, let it be noted that sometimes complete restoration of a relationship isn’t always possible—especially if trust has been irreparably broken, even if there has been forgiveness extended.
The ultimate example of unconditional, equivocal forgiveness and reconciliation was when God forgave you of all your sins the moment you appropriated his free gift of grace through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). In that nano-second moment of conversion, your sin-debt was canceled, pardoned, through Christ’s shed blood; and your life, which was once separated from God because of those sins, was restored, so that now you are, without a doubt, his precious child.
When you understand your position in Christ—wholly and undeservedly forgiven—you understand why forgiveness is so desperately important to our earthly relationships.
What do you do, though, when you need to be forgiven by the one you hurt, when their granting it is out of your control?
1. Confess Privately
The first and most important step anytime you sin, whether it’s against someone or not, is to humble yourself and genuinely confess (omologó: “admit, acknowledge”) that sin to God (Psalm 32:5). Confession is a time of spiritual cleansing. It unburdens and releases your soul of guilt and shame. It’s a time of being restored back into a relationship with your Father, “who is faithful and just” and then remembering that sin no more once it’s confessed, as far as the east is from the west (1 John 1:9, Psalm 103:12,).
This first step in confessing should be done privately, by approaching God, through Jesus your High Priest, in the safety of your own sanctuary (Hebrews 4:16). This sacred, serious time is when you hold nothing back, when you pour it all out, when you name your sin specifically. You admit that you “missed the mark” of doing God’s will, that you utterly (maybe even flagrantly) disobeyed him.
Through confession only will you experience reconciliation with your Father, restoration of your soul, and joy in the freedom from guilt and shame.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Sinenkiy
2. Petition God
Now that you’ve confessed privately, you need to take the next step and approach the person (or persons) you sinned against. You will need to acknowledge “publicly” (face to face) that you hurt them and ask for their forgiveness. This, by far, is the most uncomfortable but necessary part of the process of seeking absolution. It requires putting aside your pride and humbling yourself again, but also putting yourself in a position of utter vulnerability before another fellow human being.
It also requires faith, since you have no idea how the person you hurt will react to or receive your confession. They may accept it once they see your authentic contrition and broken spirit, in which case, healing, and restoration can begin. Or they may reject your confession and refuse to offer their forgiveness. You simply don’t know.
Take the matter to God prior to approaching them. While you cannot demand that God make this person forgive you, you can petition him (αἴτημα: “supplicate, plead, entreat, appeal”), based on Philippians 4:6. This means that you make a formal, earnest request to his authority and sovereignty, but not in a demanding spirit. Petitioning requires a posture of humility, reverence, and respect. When you approach God in this manner, he will be more apt to hear you and grant your petition, for he “is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Your petition, then, could go something like this: God, I need to ask __________ (name of the person you offended) for forgiveness, and I’m scared they won’t. I’ve hurt them terribly with my words/actions. Please, God, I’m asking that you go before me and prepare their heart to hear my confession and soften their heart to pardon me for what I did to them. And, if at all possible, to restore our relationship. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
3. Accept Their Response
At the time of your “public” confession with the offended person, bear in mind that they may not, at that time, be able to offer their forgiveness, as mentioned earlier. Frankly, they have the freedom not to since they may still be in the throes of processing what you said or did to them. Remember, they’re still smarting from the offense. They may be angry, bitter, resentful, or disappointed, in which case, they need time to emotionally and spiritually convalesce. Now is not the time to act the martyr, or to manipulate or guilt-trip them into absolving you. You must accept their decision graciously, for the time being, and extend to them grace and space.
On the other hand, if they do accept your confession and apology and extend forgiveness, accept it graciously and humbly, and assure them that you intend not to commit the same offense again and hope that the two of you can move on and rejoice in the reconciliation.
4. Pray for Them
If the offended person isn’t able to forgive you right away, besides grace and space, the next best gift you can give them is your prayers. But don’t lord it over them. Simply tell them that you understand that what you did was hurtful, even devastating, and that they have every right to put some distance between the two of you. Let it go at that.
In the meantime, privately pray for their healing and recovery. Pray that God, over time, will soften their heart toward you, to the point where they can finally and genuinely extend forgiveness to you.
Pray also for God’s will to be done in the relationship, be it full (or, at best, partial) restoration, or even the inevitability of losing the relationship altogether, which may be one of the consequences of your wrongdoing. Whatever God’s answer is, accept it graciously and humbly.
What if the Person Never Forgives You?
“If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).
If the offended person—particularly if they’re a fellow Christ-follower—continues to withhold forgiveness from you and bears a grudge for months or even years, there is simply nothing you can do. The onus has shifted to them, then, since it is commanded by God that his children are to forgive one another, seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). God expects his children, whom he has forgiven unconditionally, to do the same. To not do so is to sin, and they will remain under their sin and its consequences until they repent of their lack of mercy and unforgiveness (see the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Matthew 18:21-35).
At that point, you are under no obligation to this person. So far as it depended on you, you made every attempt to be forgiven—by genuinely confessing your sin and asking for forgiveness—and to be reconciled to and be at peace with them (Romans 12:18). They, however, did not concede to either. You are free to move on in your life, knowing you have been forgiven by God and have been restored back to righteousness in his eyes.
Don’t give up hope, though. Continue to pray for this person and their hardened heart. Perhaps, in God’s perfect timing, full forgiveness will be granted. Until then, live in the freedom of your own divine forgiveness.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AntonioGuillem
Denise is a former newspaper reporter and current freelance writer. She has been published in numerous online and print publications. She is also a former Women's Bible Study teacher. Denise's passion is to use her writing to bless, encourage, and inform others. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children (another has grown and flown). You can find Denise at denisekohlmeyer.com.