Does Unconditional Forgiveness Build Bitterness?

While perusing the Internet today one headline caught my eye. It stated that “unconditional forgiveness builds bitterness.” As Socrates might have said, “May we explore this?”

First, let us define unconditional forgiveness, which is the offer of mercy to someone who has been unjust to you. You do not wait for an apology or anything else from that person or from anyone else as you offer unconditional forgiveness.

The blogger stated the following as arguments against unconditional forgiveness:

1. We are “hard-wired” for justice. Unconditional forgiveness does not allow justice to come forth.

Argument against this: The hidden assumptions behind this statement is that forgiveness and justice cancel each other. Either we forgive or we seek justice. Is this true? Why cannot we exercise both moral virtues at the same time: forgive and seek justice. Cannot we offer mercy to another who has smashed our car and then present him with the body shop bill?

2. To ask someone to forgive completely without an apology teaches the “forgiver” that justice is cheap.

Argument against this: One can seek justice without the other’s apology. As stated above, one can forgive without an apology. Apologies affect neither justice nor forgiveness. Both can occur without the offending person saying anything.

3. As the unconditional forgiver offers mercy without either an apology or the restoration of justice, she may become bitter.

Argument: Because one can With Loveoffer unconditional love and seek justice at the same time, bitterness need not occur, and if it does, we have to ask whether unconditional forgiveness is the culprit or whether the attempt at a justice that fails to materialize is the culprit.

4. Because unconditional forgiveness might lead to one never talking to the offender, this kind of forgiveness is a private affair only, isolating forgiver and forgiven.

Argument: Even though unconditional forgiveness **might** lead to no talking, it is not **inevitable** that the two stop talking. Unconditional forgiveness does not place the condition of no-talking between the parties. One surely can unconditionally forgive and then approach the other with a sense of agape love, perhaps enhancing the dialogue, which could take place in bitterness if the other apologizes and yet still has made no recompense for the smashed car.

Conclusion: The arguments against unconditional forgiveness here do not stand up to exploration. Unconditional forgiveness remains viable and important.


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  1. Samantha says:

    Those who insist on an apology from the other person imprison themselves in bitterness if the other’s apology is not forthcoming.

  2. Martin says:

    For those who think that conditional forgiveness (which requires a response of some kind from the one who did a bad thing) is great, all I can say is try it for a while. It will bring you down.

  3. Jamie L says:

    Waiting for an apology is a good idea because it puts pressure on the other to change. Yet, why should we not forgive as we ask for the apology? Why not do both, forgive and then keep respectfully asking for the apology?

  4. Chris says:

    Maybe unconditional forgiveness is appropriate under certain circumstances (such as with a person with whom there is no possibility of reconciliation) and conditional forgiveness is appropriate under other circumstances (the other will begin to see that he has to apologize and therefore be helped).

  5. TJ says:

    Don’t you think that if we had to cling to conditional forgiveness no matter what, that this would create bitterness? After all the one who hurt us is now in the driver’s seat regarding our ability to get rid of our anger.

  6. Chris says:

    Great point, TJ. Those who hold out unconditionally for conditional forgiveness could end up being the ones who are bitter.


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