I was asked today what to tell someone who says that they know God has forgiven them, but they can’t “forgive themselves.”
So, I did a Bible study, looking out all of the forms of the word “forgive.”
The concept of “self-forgiveness” is not found anywhere in the Bible.
The word “forgive” and its forms (forgiveness, forgivenesses, forgiveth, and forgiving) appears 70 times in 62 verses. It is always about someone forgiving a party who has done them wrong, or God forgiving a sin. (Or not!) Not a single time can I find “forgiveness” to refer to someone forgiving themselves of something.
And this makes sense.
Our sins — particularly our sins against God — are for God to forgive:
Ephesians 1:7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
There is no “self-forgiveness.” Believers have forgiveness in Christ, from the only one who can bestow such forgiveness.
And we are, of course, to forgive others:
Ephesians 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
I suppose that when someone feels the need to “forgive themselves,” and can’t, they are really experiencing unresolved guilt. To me, the answer to that is to recognize that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. Remorse is good. Holding on to guilt is not.
God forgave you. Whether or not you feel like you can forgive yourself doesn’t measure up to anything against that.