Never Having to Say You're Sorry?

I was 21 years old and in the Army when I read Eric Segal's book and later watched the film Love Story. The book and movie popularized the schmaltzy "Love means never having to say you're sorry" line. I thought of that line recently when I read a fellow blogger's posting. The essence of the post was that God forgave his enemies and we should forgive ours as well.. whether they ask for forgiveness or not.

So, I wonder, does God's love for us mean that we never have to ask for forgiveness? Will He always forgive whether we ask for it or not? The answer is not as simple as one might think.

The question of asking for forgiveness was one that haunted Martin Luther. As a Roman Catholic monk he was obsessed with confessing his sins and frustrated by his inability to remember all of his sins when he confessed them to his priest. Of course this journey, laced with frustration, ultimately led him to the revelation that one is justified before God by faith.

So what about this need to say that you are sorry.. and say it to God? Is the journey all about faith.. is it just living a positive journey of believing in God.. does God require us to say we are sorry.. and what about people who don't believe and don't pray? If we Christians don't need to ask for forgiveness then why should anyone be required to ask for forgiveness?

Of course I could say that asking for forgiveness is a part of the Lord's prayer.. depending on your denominational persuasion, we are instructed to ask forgiveness for our trespasses (sins) or debts.. as we forgive others of like offenses. So is forgiveness just an issue of living at peace with God and each other?

Some often paint the picture the way that Jonathan Edwards once did as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". These often present repentance and forgiveness as something God requires because He is mad at humanity. In this picture asking for forgiveness is an act of appeasement and is done if fear.

I think that the heart of asking for forgiveness is humility. I think that it might be an evidence of pride if one does not feel the need to ask for forgiveness. When I think about this I think of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)
I think that this is the essence of asking for forgiveness - responding to the convicting voice of the Spirit.. a voice that leaves us without excuse.. one that speaks to us in a firm and quiet voice of our need to be forgiven.. a voice heard by Christians and others as well.

I think that it is an arrogant person who quenches that voice and refuses to acknowledge their need to ask for forgiveness. Truly, in a sense, love means wanting to say that you are sorry.


  1. Great post.

    I think it is interesting that Paul, who wrote a very large part of our Bible, seemed to be more and more convicted as time went on of his sin. I Cor. 15:9 "For I am the least of the apostles....." - Eph 3:8-1 "Unto me who am less than the least of all the saints....I Timothy 1:15: "....that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief."

    I think the closer we draw to Jesus the more aware we are of our unworthiness and our need for forgiveness and repentance.

  2. I agree Susan.. seems that as we mature spiritually we become more sensitive to His voice and conviction.

  3. Bob,
    I think You are both right about Spiritual maturity making us more sensitive to conviction.
    I think it is totally about humility. The more we walk with Jesus the more we realize who and what we are, and in that realization we are more and more sorry for the things we do. But it also brings us into a more secure relationship with Christ, Because the more we realize how unworthy we are, the safer we feel in our relationship with God, because He already knew all of the crap about us and loved us any way.
    I guess that's why when I feel most convicted about my actions (or inaction) I feel closest to God, Because I can't believe He would choose to love me.

  4. Wonderful post brother.
    You did a fantastic job with your thoughts.
    Keep up the great work.
    I hope you have a blessed week.

  5. Thanks for the comments Shaun and Kinney. And ditto your thoughts about humility Shaun.. it does seem to be a mark of a spiritually mature person.. not that I have any person experience :)

  6. "Truly, in a sense, love means wanting to say that you are sorry."

    Absolutely. I always thought that line in Love Story was stupid.

  7. Confession and forgiveness are great gifts, both require vulnerability that opens the door do a deeper and more intimate relationship with Christ. I don't know why someone wouldn't want to confess and ask forgiveness, but, I won't limit the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit in this are either.

  8. Great point Cheryl.. not feeling a need to be forgiven points to a deeper problem.

    I agree Karen - that was a stupid line.. of course I think that I bought into it way back then :)

  9. Here is what Chuck Colson recently said on saying your sorry:

    "The Christian faith is a faith of forgiveness. Jesus tells us we are to forgive one another. And when asked how often, He said seventy times seven. We who have been forgiven of our sins by Christ are to similarly forgive others.

    But forgiveness is not a blank check. A sinner who is not repentant will not be forgiven by God. Repentance, deriving from the Greek metanoia, means a change of mind. Repentance is not a casual thing. It is not admitting a mistake, as Edwards said; it means being aware of one's sin, being deeply and genuinely sorry and amending one's ways.

    As a Christian there's no one I would not forgive, including the long line of politicians who have committed not only the sin of adultery but also the sin of hypocrisy. But of course I can't forgive them if they do not repent.

    I have no idea what has gone on in John Edwards' heart or in his family. I'm sad for both parties, obviously for his wife especially, and for the country and his followers whom he has disappointed."

  10. I think asking for forgiveness is pretty simply an act of submission, followed by the blessing of knowing God's love. It is turning away from our selfish nature, coming out of the dark, to be forgiven, loved and liberated.

  11. "But of course I can't forgive them if they do not repent."

    I only partly agree with Chuck Colson in this quote. I think part of what muddles the water on the topic of forgiveness is semantics.

    And I do think there is an element in forgiveness that is completely unrelated to repentance. I don't think I can be restored to someone who has not repented, but when I say I have forgiven someone who has not repented, this is what I mean: I have let go of my need to make them pay. I cannot actually pardon them. And I certainly have no interest in excusing them (that is not forgiveness, anyway). But to stand there with the reality and weight of what they have done to me, and to release them (and myself, really) from the debt of payback that I "owe" them. That is the kind of forgiveness that I can do whether or not they repent.

    If I did not do this (whether it is forgiveness or you want to call it something else) with my ex-husband, I would have to be so consumed with the offenses and injustices he has committed and never repented of.

    I do not live in relationship with him anymore. There has been no repentance and no restoration. But to say I can't forgive him because he hasn't repented, ends up leaving me, I think, with a burden of connection to him that I'd rather not bear.

    I wonder when I hear people say that forgiveness can't happen where there has been no repentance, if they have a different way of describing the release from a demand for paying back that takes place even where repentance has not.

  12. I agree with you eclexia.. often unforgiveness is something that keeps us in bondage.

    Of course the focus of this post was asking forgiveness from God.. repentance plays a different role in that scenario.

  13. Oops, I see that now--I got distracted from the main point of your post by the one paragraph in the middle of the Chuck Colson quote.

    From the side of the one repenting and being sorry (and sorrowful), instead of the direction I jumped off to (of forgiving), the thought that love means WANTING to say you are sorry continues to challenge me and roll around in my head since reading this. Thank you for these helpful thoughts.


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