I have been told that the concept of forgiving one’s self is not in the Bible.
And admittedly, you can’t find any variation of the phrase ‘forgiving yourself’ in scripture. But I have to differ with those who state that because it isn’t called out specifically, it is not a valid concept. I believe that argument comes out of a misunderstanding of biblical forgiveness.
First, we should revisit Mirriam-Webster’s definition of ‘forgive’:
“to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.
Forgiving means releasing the debt. As has been said, it’s not about ignoring the hurt, denying the pain, or excusing the offense. It’s about accepting reality, and then choosing not to hold it against the person who hurt us. It’s not about absolving the offender from guilt – only God can do that, as Jesus acknowledged in Mark 2:5-12. But forgiveness from our perspective is about releasing the person from the responsibility of having to make it up to me for offending me. And hence, breaking the chains of bitterness that unforgiveness brings.
I also can’t give that release to a person on behalf of someone else. I cannot on behalf of Frank forgive Bill of an offense against Frank, and declare he doesn’t owe anything to Frank – only Frank can do that. And Frank needs to do that, because it’s his heart that is in bondage given the alternative.
I hope that made sense. Because all of that is important to understand before we get to the next question…
What happens when the person who has offended me is me?
When I make poor choices that I have to live with, when I have put myself in a bad position and caused myself pain and angst – in a very real sense, I have offended myself. Given this, I can choose two avenues: (1) I can live my life in regret for that thing that I did and continue to hold myself (the offender) in bondage to self-loathing and remorse, or (2) I can choose to loose myself (the offender) from the responsibility of having to make it up to me, and break the chains.
When we think of it that way, option 2 is obviously the biblical response.
This in no way excuses what I’ve done. I can’t say “I’ve forgiven myself and so everything is okay now.” It also does not absolve me from accountability – only God can do that. (However, I can claim 1 John 1:9 that says very clearly that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us.”)
Neither am I forgiving myself on behalf of others who were offended by the same act (just like I can’t forgive Bill on behalf of Frank, I also can’t forgive myself on behalf of someone else who I hurt).
You see, it all comes down to forgiveness being a matter of healing for the hurt person, an avenue of freedom to the offended. That’s the biblical concept.
So, whether the term self-forgiveness is or is not in scripture, if one has the proper understanding of what forgiveness is about, it can and should be applied to anyone who offends us…even ourselves.