If the one forgiven does not accept it, is the forgiveness then incomplete?

One major goal of the process of forgiveness is to be reconciled with those who have hurt us by their unjust acts. If the ones who were unjust refuse to change, refuse to reconcile, is the process of forgiveness then incomplete? After all, if the goal is not accomplished, how complete can it be?

If a person wishes to serve the poor and gets caught in traffic, which prevents him from going to the soup kitchen, one can hardly say that the service to the poor was accomplished. Yet, I think this analogy is not a strong one for this reason: Forgiving as a moral virtue is complete in itself when the person exercises that virtue. The exercise of that virtue is independent of others’ reactions to it. Not only did the forgiver intend to perform a forgiving act but also he did so when he offers a cessation of resentment and some form of goodness to the other. In our soup kitchen example, the well-meaning person had full intent to work in the soup kitchen, but did not do so.

All virtues are complete as virtues when exercised appropriately and do not require a specific response from another. As another analogy, if a police officer exercises justice by restraining a burglar, the police officer has exercised the virtue of justice (presuming he had a deliberate intent to exercise justice). Even if the burglar now escapes and burglarizes three different stores, the police officer’s act of justice is complete as a virtue. The intended purpose was not brought to completion and so we must distinguish between a completion of the virtue itself and a completion of an intended purpose for the virtue. The intended purpose at least in part of the process of forgiveness is reconciliation. So, one can forgive and complete this as a moral virtue. At the same time, the other can spurn the forgiveness, in which case, the intended purpose of the process of forgiveness is not fulfilled.

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Categories: Our Forgiveness Blog, What Forgiveness is


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