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Forgiveness is a person's mental response to actual or assumed wrongdoing by others, through which the forgiver - regardless of questions about guilt , gravity or the consequences of the act - recognizes human imperfection in order to be able to accept what has happened . Forgiveness requires a high degree of emotional intelligence , because the forgiver must be able to put himself in the other person's shoes as well as become aware of his own emotions . The understanding assumption of a possible error , a lack of prudence , blind obedience or immoral behavior should not, however, be interpreted as consent to the act. Instead, it is an understanding of the person as such, regardless of their faults.

There is no generally accepted definition. Undisputed elements of forgiveness are that a person sees someone as responsible for harmful behavior and at the same time freely and voluntarily withdraws from all allegations and claims. Among other things, it is disputed whether the repentance of the person considered responsible is necessary for forgiveness , whether forgiveness necessarily relates to guilt and whether emotional changes are a constitutive part of forgiveness processes.

A “perpetrator” 's hope of forgiveness is often referred to as forgiveness .

On the term 'forgiveness'


In addition to everyday language, the word 'forgiveness' is currently used primarily in religious and therapeutic contexts. What is meant by forgiveness is discussed in philosophy , psychology , religious studies and theology . Because of the positive effects attributed to it, forgiveness is also a frequent topic in popular counseling culture. Forgiveness is discussed as a possible response to very different actions, e.g. B.

  • consciously hurtful expressions
  • intentional foul in sport
  • ingrained behavior among friends (unpunctuality, lack of discipline, rudeness)
  • mobbing
  • domestic violence
  • serious crimes
  • War crimes
  • Crimes against humanity
  • Dealing with the guilt of the other side in a conflict that has lasted for generations
  • genocide

It is controversial whether forgiveness is a possible or meaningful reaction in all of these cases, or whether certain wrongdoings cannot or should not be forgiven.

Differentiation from other patterns of action

Those who forgive wrongdoing remembers it if it is a matter of the past or consciously takes note of it if it is a matter of current behavior. He does not think the wrongdoing is negligible or insignificant, he is unwilling to tacitly accept it, and sees no reasons to excuse the behavior.

Forgiveness is impossible when dealing with wrongdoing

  • Forbearance (who recognizes wrongdoing but does not judge it to be material)
  • apologetic forgiveness (which mitigates or negates responsibility for non-negligible misconduct under certain circumstances)
  • Tolerance (who continues to accept misconduct without contradiction or resistance and thus factually accepts it)
  • Ignore (when someone consciously or unconsciously refuses to acknowledge the wrongdoing)
  • Forgetting (when the memory of the harmful behavior no longer exists)

is responded.

Forgiveness must not be equated with reconciliation , which aims at the fact that in a relationship both parties have become guilty, have mutually forgiven each other and now strive for a common future free of all mutual hurts

Forgiveness is also different from pardoning an offender based on grace . The Federal President can issue a pardon, regardless of whether he has personally granted the person or not. Conversely, he can personally forgive a person without therefore considering it right to pardon them.

Forgiveness in Religions

Forgiveness is of particular importance in various religions for the relationships between God / gods / higher beings and humans. In interpersonal relationships, too, it often has a prominent place. The use of the word 'forgiveness' in religious contexts is not uniform, but shows different understandings, some of which are contradicting even within one religion.

Abrahamic Religions

In Judaism , Christianity and Islam forgiveness is regarded as an outstanding quality of the one God ( monotheism ). Great emphasis is placed on the positive significance of God's forgiveness for the life of believers and their relationship with God and with one another. In all three religions forgiveness is a basic element of anthropology : That God forgives people is fundamental for the relationship between people and God. For believers to see themselves as they are, as documented in the Holy Scriptures, the experience that God has forgiven them is elementary and indispensable. It follows from this in all three religions that forgiveness is of central importance for the behavior of believers among themselves and towards other people. One who forgives acts in accordance with the revealed nature, will, and action of God. The meaning of forgiveness as a quality and will of God is obviously in great tension to other statements that speak of God's wrath, his vengeance and retribution, and to the limits of interpersonal forgiveness that are visible in all three religions. The notion, which is important for some people, that one can also forgive oneself, is not part of the statements about forgiveness in the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Forgiveness is understood there exclusively as an event between different people.

In all three religions, especially since the Enlightenment - especially from the side of liberal theology ([Liberales Judaism], [Liberal Theology]) - there has been criticism of the fundamental importance of God's forgiveness for the relationship between God and man, among other things because the associated concept of [guilt] or [sin] is perceived as increasingly problematic. There have been numerous attempts to formulate an understanding of God in which forgiveness has only a subordinate or no meaning at all. When asked why forgiveness between people should be of central importance if it is not central to the relationship between God and man, these conceptions no longer respond with reference to the characteristics of God and one's own experience of God's forgiveness, but to others Referred to reasons that often come from philosophy or psychology.


Christianity teaches the reconciliation between God and man, in that God met man through Jesus Christ :

“Peter answered them, Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. "

- Acts 2.38 EU

“So it should be made known to you, dear brethren, that through him the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; and in everything in which you could not be justified by the law of Moses, he who believes in him is justified. "

- Acts 13: 38-39 LUT

"And he is the atonement for our sins, not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world."

The Lord's Prayer contains the request for forgiveness:

"And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors."

The following explanation emphasizes the importance of forgiving other people - by making God's forgiveness dependent on it. When a person forgives others, he passes on what he has received from God and practices “the gospel in small ways”, because forgiving among people is also done “by grace”, without the other having deserved forgiveness.

Jesus not only demanded forgiveness from his disciples, but also practiced it himself. In his last words on the cross, he asked for forgiveness for his enemies:

“But Jesus said, Father, forgive them; because they don't know what they're doing! "

The believers should forgive each other:

“Bear one another and forgive one another when someone complains against the other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you forgive! "

- Colossians 3:13 ESV

The Jesuan ethics demands an unlimited willingness to reconcile , even if there is no response to a repeated offer of forgiveness.

“So Peter came up to him and asked: Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he sins against me? Seven times? Jesus said to him: Not seven times, but seventy-seven times. "

- Matthew 18.21 f. EU

According to Martin Luther , the forgiveness of sins is the main task of the church. So he wrote in the Great Catechism of 1529/30 in the third article of the second main part The Faith on the Holy Spirit :

“That is why everything in Christianity is destined for the purpose of getting the forgiveness of sins every day through word and signs in order to comfort and straighten our conscience as long as we live here. So does the Holy Spirit so that although we have sin, it cannot harm us. Because we live in Christianity, in which there is nothing but the forgiveness of sins, in the double sense that God forgives us and that we forgive one another, bear and help one another. "


Mahatma Gandhi pointed out that a dependent person cannot forgive because they are acting unfree. He also wrote: “Nonviolence is meaningless when it comes from a helpless creature. A mouse will hardly forgive a cat if it has to allow it to be torn to pieces by it. "

In the Mahabharata, next to the Ramayana, one of the great Hindu epics, forgiveness in Book 3, Chapter 29 is considered the greatest virtue. It says: "Forgiveness is Brahma, truth, ascetic merit and its preservation, asceticism , holiness and the cohesion of the universe."

South Pacific Religions

A special form of forgiveness is Hoʻoponopono , a psycho-spiritual practice of the traditional Hawaiians . Its use dates back well over eight hundred years. As a spiritual purification, Ho'oponopono serves to correct wrong behavior. Through discussion (up to confession ), mutual repentance and forgiveness in a conciliatory, peaceful manner, a contribution is made to the resolution of the conflict (including absolution ), extending to the practiced love of the enemy . Traditionally, the procedure, in which everyone involved in a problem was present (in the spirit also the ancestors ), was led by a kahuna (healing priest, similar to a shaman ). The higher beings called on to help were predominantly nature spirits , but also a family spirit called 'aumakua.

Modern forms established by Kahuna Morrnah Simeona can be performed alone. Since the purification takes place under the patronage of the Creator, a liberation of the human being from the ignorance of his divine origin should also be achieved. Both traditional and modern forms of Hawaiian origin do not include mantras .

Psychology of forgiveness

The conversation psychotherapist Reinhard Tausch has empirically examined the psychological dimension of forgiveness. Accordingly, it is about intense inner self-talk that enables a mental cope with the hurting event. Exchange points out that even an “inner” forgiveness can be sufficient, especially if the other person cannot be reached or a communication seems inappropriate.

Anselm Grün describes the path to forgiveness as distancing yourself from one's own emotions . He distinguishes between harmful as anger and healing, before mental injury protective anger .

Of decisive importance in the process of forgiveness is the insight that non-forgiveness can and in most cases also have psychological negative effects on those who are unwilling to forgive: Keeping memories open, even their sometimes lust-emphasized embellishment, which then hardly corresponds to the reality of the corresponds to the original offense, can become a permanent burden for those unwilling to reconcile and turn into self-harm for the victim, which in certain circumstances becomes more burdensome than the original offense itself. For self-protection, the willingness to forgive is therefore preferable to a hardening of the offender's rejection.

Forgiveness, however, means the expenditure of increased psychological energy, as this must initially be directed against superficial own intentions (e.g. punishment of the perpetrator up to revenge). Forgiveness is all the more difficult the more psychological freedom is restricted by psychological shackles. Recognizing and loosening these shackles can be extremely difficult for those affected and may require the help of those who are not affected (e.g. friends or other relatives or professional help).

Forgiveness can, but does not have to mean, forgetting. Extreme damage, which should and cannot be forgotten for historical reasons, can nevertheless be forgiven. This seems important to know, because even with less extreme damage, the idea that in the case of forgiveness everything has to be forgotten in the sense of "wiping under the table" is contrary to a meaningful forgiveness that relieves both parties.

See also


  • Mariano Crespo: Forgiveness. A philosophical inquiry. Winter, Heidelberg 2002, ISBN 3-8253-1409-X .
  • Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz : Forgiveness of the Unforgivable? Excursions into landscapes of guilt, repentance and forgiveness. Text & Dialog, 2nd edition, Dresden 2013, ISBN 978-3-943897-01-2 .
  • Christoph Huppenbauer: Forgiveness - the imposition of faith. Challenge for Church Action . Steinmann, Rosengarten near Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-927043-61-9 .
  • Vladimir Jankélévitch : Forgiveness. Essays on morality and cultural philosophy . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-518-58365-4 .
  • Johannes Jürgensen: Guilt and Reconciliation in the Process of Reorganizing our Church. In: Karl Ludwig Kohlwage , Manfred Kamper, Jens-Hinrich Pörksen (eds.): “What he tells you, do it!” The reconstruction of the Schleswig-Holstein regional church after the Second World War. Documentation of a conference in Breklum 2017. Compiled and edited by Peter Godzik , Rudolf Hinz and Simeon Schildt. Matthiesen, Husum Verlag 2018, pp. 73–78.
  • David Konstan : Before Forgiveness. The Origins of a Moral Idea . Cambridge 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-19940-7 .
  • Living Pastoral Care : Sin - Guilt - Forgiveness. Issue 1/2007 online
  • Edmund Schlink : Grace in God's judgment (June 1945). C. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1946.
  • Sandra Schlitter, Reinhard Schlitter: Mirco : Lose. Despair. Forgive . Adeo, Asslar 2012, ISBN 978-3-942208-68-0 .
  • Guilt and forgiveness. Festschrift for Michael Beintker on his 70th birthday. Edited by Hans-Peter Großhans, Herman J. Selderhuis, Alexander Dölecke and Matthias Schleiff. Tübingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-16-155277-9 .
  • Konrad Stauss : The healing power of forgiveness. The seven phases of spiritual-therapeutic forgiveness and reconciliation work. With prefaces by Joachim Bauer and Michael Klessmann . Kösel, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-466-36892-1 .
  • Desmond Tutu , Mpho Tutu: The Book of Forgiveness. Four steps to more humanity . Translated from English by Thomas Görden. Allegria, Berlin 2014.

Web links

Wiktionary: forgiveness  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. P. Walsh, forgiveness. In: Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 1995. New Edition 2005. ISBN 0-19-926479-1
  2. Cf. Adelheid Müller-Lissner, Befreiendes Verzeihen In: Der Tagesspiegel , May 9, 2011, accessed on November 9, 2019
  3. Sascha Ansahl: Forgiveness liberates: The way to joy and inner peace. Reichel Verlag, August 2016, ISBN 3-946433-29-4 . Colin Tipping: I forgive. The radical farewell to being a victim. Kamphausen, Bielefeld 2004, ISBN 3-933496-80-2 .
  4. ^ American Psychological Association. Forgiveness: A Sampling of Research Results. . 2006. Archived from the original on June 26, 2011. Retrieved on February 7, 2009. See Karin Scheiber: Forgiveness: A systematic-theological investigation. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2006. ISBN 978-3-16-148893-1 p. 266 ff.
  5. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : Basis preach. Basics of the Christian faith in sermons, plus a didactic homiletics for advanced students. Verlag für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, Nürnberg 2010, pp. 149–156.
  6. Eberhard Schockenhoff: Redeemed Freedom. What matters in Christianity. Herder, Freiburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-451-34133-5 , pp. 73 ff.
  7. ^ Lutherisches Kirchenamt (ed.): Our faith. The confessional documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church , Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn 1986, no.747.
  8. ^ Mohandas K. Gandhi: The Doctrine of the Sword . In: Allen and Linda Kirschner (eds.), Blessed are the Peacemakers , pp. 257-263, New York 1971.
  9. The Doctrine Of The Sword (Eng.)
  10. Mahabharata Book 3, Chapter 29. Retrieved August 7, 2019 .
  11. Pali Jae Lee and Koko Willis: Tales from the Night Rainbow , Night Rainbow Publishing, Honolulu 1990.
  12. Michael Micklei: The Coronation of Consciousness - a divine handout through the Ho'oponopono according to Morrnah Simeona , Micklei Media and Pacifica Seminars, 2011, ISBN 978-39426-1-1
  13. Reinhard Tausch: Forgive, double the benefit. In: Psychologie heute , April 1993, pp. 20-26.
  14. Karin Scheiber: Forgiveness: A systematic-theological investigation. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2006. ISBN 978-3-16-148893-1