How Our Unbiblical Views of Forgiveness Perpetuate Our Social Media Outrage

I’ve read quite a few articles lately about something sociologists are calling FOMO. That’s short for “fear of missing out”. It’s why you keep your phone with you all the time and are almost constantly checking out social media. But I can save you from FOMO…at least a little bit.

Here is what you are going to miss out on this week if you disengage for a little while. I don’t know the details but they don’t matter—or at least won’t matter once the next big story drops.

At some point this week somebody important is going to say something dumb and insensitive. Some people will laugh. Most will be outraged. This person is going to offer an apology. Depending on how much we liked this person in the first place, many will offer forgiveness. But some won’t “forgive” and will call for this person to face the consequences of their actions. Then they will get in trouble for being so unforgiving and not letting it go.

The cycle is predictable. I do something wrong. I say I’m sorry. You forgive me. We bury it in the depths of the sea…only we don’t actually bury in the depths of the sea and our relationship is awkward and strained for a lengthy season…but, hey, FORGIVENESS!!!!

The problem with this cycle is two fold. First, sorry isn’t repentance. Secondly, forgiveness isn’t unconditional. Forgetting these two points is why so many relationships have all kinds of junk bubbling under the surface. And it’s why our media/social media is caught in a vicious cycle of dumb outrage.

“I’m sorry” is not repentance

In his book, From Forgiven to Forgiving, Jay Adams helpfully shows the difference between asking for forgiveness and apologizing. Noting that the concept of apologizing is not found anywhere in the Bible, Adams gives a visual picture:

Picture the wrongdoer holding a basketball. He apologizes saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ The one offended shuffles his feet awkwardly. It is always awkward to respond to an apology, because you are not asked to do anything, and yet some sort of response is expected. The offended party says something inane like, “Well, that’s OK.” But it isn’t. The matter has not been put to rest. When you say the wrongdoing is OK you either lie or condone a wrong. At the end of the transaction the wrongdoer is still holding the ball. (Adams 59)

In our feelings-centered culture we’ve turned forgiveness into a feeling. We assess whether or not somebody is “really sorry” by how deeply the feel bad about what they’ve done. If the person can sufficiently show that they feel terrible and have egg on their face, then we are more likely to grant forgiveness. In the mind of many, if they feel bad, they’ve done the time, and to not offer the “it’s OK” is to be far from Christ-like.

But repentance isn’t a feeling. Asking for forgiveness isn’t centered on how people feel. It’s more like a business transaction. The offending party has put themselves into the other person’s debt. Forgiveness is deciding to no longer charge them—it is to absorb the cost of the offense. Again, Adams helpfully explains:

Now, consider forgiveness. The wrongdoer comes with his basketball. He says, ‘I wronged you. Will you forgive me?’ In so doing, he tosses the ball to the other person. He is freed form the burden. Now, the burden for the response has shifted. The one wronged is asked to do what God requires him to do…The wrongdoer confessed to wrongdoing; he committed himself to that confession. The offended party committed himself to burying the matter. At the end of the transaction, the ball is tossed away and obligations concerning the matter are over and done with. Both are free to become reconciled. The matter has been set to rest. (Adams, 60)

Listen, if you are really “sorry” for what you’ve done, you do not want to hold onto that basketball. You have sinned and you put yourself at the mercy of the offended party. Apologizing doesn’t get the job done because it doesn’t actually address the problem. Repentance isn’t present. The offending party is still maintaining control in the relationship.

But we get away with this because our culture (and especially our Christian culture) has swallowed another error concerning unconditional forgiveness.

2. Forgiveness is not unconditional

It sounds so counter to everything we’ve been taught about the gospel, but forgiveness really is not unconditional. If it were then every single person would be saved. Yes, there is a posture of forgiveness that every believer must have. But we cannot fully forgive unless the other person repents. (See more here).

This is why stuff is never actually dealt with in so many of our relationships. This is why we are stuck in this perpetual season of outrage on social media. It’s because nothing is ever actually dealt with. Only biblical forgiveness provides the healing and reconciliation that we need.

Settling for apologies and unconditional forgiveness traps us in a cycle of non-resolution. The offending party is not given the opportunity to actually pursue repentance and redemption in Jesus. And the offended party is not given the opportunity to actually forgive and pursue healing and full reconciliation.

The sooner the church drops these unbiblical notions the better off we will be. And maybe then we can be a bit more of a beacon of light on social media than joining in on the perpetual outrage.

Photo source: here


  1. Finally a word of Godly Wisdom in a frothing and tempestuous sea of “you MUST forgive” even when no repentance has taken place. THANK YOU for speaking this word of truth. Sadly, most have had the “forgive (without repentance of the offender) or you won’t be forgiven” drilled into their heads since childhood that this demonic doctrine will not soon go away.

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