I have been asked before: “What if a person offends me and never asks for forgiveness? How can you forgive someone who refuses to ask?”
Yale professor and theologian Miroslav Volf suggests forgiveness is like giving a gift. You send a gift to a friend, but he refuses to open it. It stays sitting on the table. Perhaps he thinks, “He shouldn’t have given me a gift, he can’t afford it” or “I think there is an ulterior motive, so I won’t open it.” Whatever the reason, your friend refuses to open the gift.
Have you given a gift? Yes, you bought it, wrapped it, and sent it to him. You no longer are in possession of the gift: it is given. But has your friend received the benefit of the gift? Well, no. He can enjoy it anytime he wants, but for some reason he will not accept it.
Forgiveness is like this. As a follower of Jesus I have no option but to forgive. I cannot force someone to accept my forgiveness. Regardless, I must forgive. How can I claim to be a recipient of God’s forgiveness if I refuse to forgive? How does a child of God refuse to act like his gracious father?
Volf is no academic when it comes to forgiveness. He is a Croat and grew up in Soviet Yugoslavia. His five year old brother was killed by the negligence of a Soviet soldier. He was persecuted as a Christian during communism and as a Croat during the Balkan wars he saw his cities plundered, churches burned, and his people raped and killed by the Serbian cetniks. Volf knows the challenges and pain demanded by forgiveness.
Is forgiveness easy? No. It may very well be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. But until the world is taught forgiveness by those of us who claim to be followers of a forgiving God, it will never know the peace God intends for it.
Those who offend may never ask for forgiveness. But remember Paul’s words in Romans 5:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.