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This article addresses the religious approach to forgiveness. For a psychological account see [[Forgiveness.

Religious views on forgiveness offer many people a framework within which to feel, think and behave with regard to the concept.

Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. However, throughout the ages, philosophers have studied forgiveness apart from religion. In addition, as in other areas of human inquiry, science is beginning to question religious concepts of forgiveness. Psychology, sociology and medicine are among the scientific disciplines researching foregiveness or aspects of foregiveness.

Instances of teachings on forgiveness such as the parable of the Prodigal Son[1] and Mahatma Gandhi's forgiveness of his assassin as he lay dying, are well known instances of such teachings and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness between one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and/or divine forgiveness.


Religious and spiritual views on forgiveness[]


In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful emotions from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being.[2] Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind karma and instead encourages the cultivation of emotions which leave a wholesome effect. "In contemplating the law of kamma, we realize that it is not a matter of seeking revenge but of practicing metta and forgiveness, for the victimizer is, truly, the most unfortunate of all.[3] When resentments have already arisen, the Buddhist view is to calmly proceed to release them by going back to their roots. Buddhism centers on release from delusion and suffering through meditation and receiving insight into the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passions that make forgiveness necessary as well as the reality of the objects of those passions.[4] "If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers."[5]

Buddhism places much emphasis on the concepts of Mettā (loving kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekkhā (equanimity), as a means to avoiding resentments in the first place. These reflections are used to understand the context of suffering in the world, both our own and the suffering of others.

Quotes (more quotes here)
‘He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’
— in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.
(Dhammapada 1.3-4; trans. Radhakrishnan)


According to traditional Christian teachings, the forgiveness of others is amongst the spiritual duties of the Christian believer. God is generally considered to be the original source of all forgiveness, which is made possible through the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, and is freely available to the repentant believer. As a response to God's forgiveness, the Christian believer is in turn expected to learn how to forgive others; some would teach that the forgiveness of others is a necessary part of receiving forgiveness ourselves. In fact, at the end of the Lord's Prayer, Jesus says that unless we forgive we won't be forgiven.

The person who is forgiven is not necessarily released from any obligation to make material or financial amends. By forgiving someone the person doing the forgiving becomes free.

Unlike other Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches teach that God's forgiveness of the believer is "mediated" by the Church, generally through traditional ritual acts involving an ordained priest. In these churches, and in some Anglican churches, it is customary to make formal confession of sins individually in the presence of a priest, and to obtain absolution as a formal expression by the church of God's forgiveness.

Most Protestant denominations teach that a believer receives forgiveness more directly through a sincere expression of repentance to God, and that the believer completes this in the act of forgiving others. Protestant denominations generally place more emphasis on the need for private or informal repentance, and less emphasis on the need for formal or public repentance. This is supported by the direction to Confess to the our Father in Heaven, since he is the only one who can forgive sins. However, even Catholics and Orthodox Christians cite scriptural support for a "mediated" confession through Jesus conferring upon the apostles: "whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Hence, the distinction that only God can forgive sins is cited by Catholics and Protestants alike.

It is taught by most denominations that the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus via the crucifixion is the vehicle through which God forgives the believer of his or her sins. The sacrament of communion is regarded as central to the reception of divine forgiveness in some Christian denominations.

Narrative christian theology understands forgiveness, not as a rule or spiritual duty, but as a form by which the people of God embody their mission to live as a people who are reconcilled to God. Since the Church's very existence is formed by God's forgiveness it operates as a people of forgiveness, forgiven and forgiving, inextricably tied to peacemaking and justice. Philip D. Kenneson, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Milligan College, writes in his book Life On The Vine, "God's intent was not that this one divine act of forgiveness [in Jesus Christ] would itself magically transform the creation into God's intended paradise. Rather, this supreme act of forgiveness in Christ is the very large rock dropped into the middle of a pond. ... [I]f I refuse such forgiveness [for others] in the name of justice, is it possible that my view of justice falls short of God's view, where justice, shalom, wholeness and salvation are not opposing goals, but different names for God's singular desire?"

Quotes (more quotes here)

Key Biblical texts on the subject of forgiveness include (here quoted from the New International Version):

  • The Lord's Prayer - "Forgive us our [debts], as we forgive our [debtors]" (some versions have sin instead of debts, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer uses trespasses instead of debts)
  • "Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven).'" (Matthew 18:21-22)
This introduces the most relevant parable, that of the Unmerciful Servant, which concludes: "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:34-35)
  • "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:25)
This can be taken to imply that the exercise of forgiveness is part of that repentance through which the believer has access to the forgiveness of God.
  • "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34. Uttered by Jesus Christ as he was put to death.
  • "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)

For some of the principal Christian teachings regarding the forgiveness of sins by God, see Atonement.


The concept of performing atonement from one's wrongdoing (PrayaschittaSanskrit: Penance), and asking for forgiveness is very much a part of the practice of Hinduism. Prayashitta is related to the law of Karma. Karma is a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing and will do. The effects of those deeds and these deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain in others.

Forgiveness is a great power

Addressing Dhritarashtra, Vidura said: "There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness." (From the Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII, Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli).[6]

An even more authoritative statement about forgiveness is espoused by Krishna, who is considered to be an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu by Hindus. Krishna said in the Gita that forgiveness is one of the characteristics of one born for a divine state. It is noteworthy that he distinguishes those good traits from those he considered to be demoniac, such as pride, self-conceit and anger (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16, verse 3).

Huston Smith in his book The World's Religions[7] says

"Enter Hinduism’s myths, her magnificent symbols, her several hundred images of God, her rituals that keep turning night and day like never ending prayer wheels. It is obtuse to confuse Hinduism’s images with idolatry, and their multiplicity with polytheism. They are 'runways' from which the sense-laden human spirit can rise for its "flight of the alone to the Alone".

Even village priest will frequently open their temple ceremonies with the following beloved invocation:

O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations:
Thou art everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations,
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.


The word Islam is derived from the Semetic word: slm, meaning peace. Clearly forgiveness is a prerequisite for any true or genuine peace. you say teaches that God (Allah in Arabic) is 'the most forgiving', and is the original source of all forgiveness. Forgiveness often requires the repentance of those being forgiven. Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either directly from Allah, or from one's fellow man. In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important. In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven.[8]

The central and most sacred book of Islam: the Qur'an, teaches that there is only one error that Allah cannot forgive, the error of ascribing partners (or equals) to Allah. Islam ranks this error as a denial of monotheism, and therefore of the supreme nature of Allah himself. (shirk).

God does not forgive idol worship (if maintained until death), and He forgives lesser offenses for whomever He wills. Anyone who idolizes any idol beside God has strayed far astray. (Qur'an 4:116)

But if he returns to God and pleads sincerely for forgiveness and abandons worshiping other than the one and only God, He will be forgiven.

The Qur'an does on occasion make allowances for violent behavior on the part of Muslim believers[9], and such allowances have been construed by some observers as condoning unforgiving behavior. Still such allowances are only made within the Qur'an in the case of defending one's faith, one's life or one's property. Outside of this, the Qu'ran makes no allowances for violent behavior. From time to time certain Muslims have interpreted such Qur'anic allowances for "defensive violence" to include what other Muslims have viewed more as unwarranted and overly aggressive violence. This interpretative debate about when to forgive and when to aggressively attack or defend continues to this day within the Muslim community.

Whenever possible, the Qur'an makes it clear that it is better to forgive another than to attack another. The Qur'an describes the believers (Muslims) as those who, They avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive. (Qur'an 42:37) and says that Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust. (Qur'an 42:40).

To receive forgiveness from God there are three requirements:

  1. Recognizing the offense itself and its admission before God.
  2. Making a commitment not to repeat the offense.
  3. Asking for forgiveness from God.

If the offense was committed against another human being, or against society, a fourth condition is added:

  1. Recognizing the offense before those against whom offense was committed and before God.
  2. Committing oneself not to repeat the offense.
  3. Doing whatever needs to be done to rectify the offense (within reason)and asking pardon of the offended party.
  4. Asking God for forgiveness.

There are no particular words to say for asking forgiveness. However, Muslims are taught many phrases and words to keep repeating daily asking God's forgiveness. For example:

  • Astaghfiru-Allah, "I ask forgiveness from Allah"
  • Subhanaka-Allah humma wa bi hamdika wa ash-hadu al la Ilaha illa Anta astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, "Glory be to You, Allah, and with You Praise (thanks) and I bear witness that there is no deity but You, I ask Your forgiveness and I return to You (in obedience)".

Islamic teaching presents the prophet Muhammad as an example of someone who would forgive others for their ignorance, even those who might have once considered themselves to be his enemies. One example of Muhammad's practice of forgiveness can be found in the Hadith, the body of early Islamic literature about the life of Muhammad. This account is as follows:
The Prophet (may peace be upon him) was the most forgiving person. He was ever ready to forgive his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him, abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of maltreating their Prophet. Muhammad (may peace be upon him) prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta'if, because what they did was out of their ignorance.[10]

Quotes (more quotes here)
  • "Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness." Qur'an 7:199-200
  • "But if you endure patiently (and do not punish), indeed it is better for the patient. Endure you patiently." Qur'an 16:126-127
  • "But withal, if one is patient in adversity and forgives — this, behold, is indeed something to set one's heart upon." Qur'an 42:43
  • "Let them (the worthy) forgive and show indulgence. Yearn ye not that Allah may forgive you? Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." Qur'an 24:22
  • "There is no compulsion in religion." Qur'an 2:256 (And thus, it can be reasoned, no need to hold grievances or unforgiveness, believing these to be amongst one's religious obligations.)


In Judaism, if a person harms one, but then sincerely and honestly apologizes to the wronged individual and tries to rectify the wrong, the wronged individual is religiously required to grant forgiveness:

  • "It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit. . . forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel." (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10)

But if the wrongdoer does not apologize, there is no religious obligation to grant forgiveness.[11] This is because Judaism is focused on the personal responsibility of the wrongdoer. It is the wrongdoer's responsibility to recognize their wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness from those who have been harmed.

Additionally, in Judaism, a person must apologize to those she has harmed in order to be entitled to forgiveness.[12] This means that, unlike in Christianity, in Judaism a person cannot obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs the person has done to other people. A person can only obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs done to God. For instance, should person A assault person B, person A would have to obtain forgiveness from both person B (for the assault) and God (for breaking God's law against assault). This is similar to how the criminal justice system in many countries works; in America, for example, an assault is considered both an offense against the government (leading to criminal prosecution) and an offense against the individual (leading to possible tort damages claims). Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth summed this concept up as follows: "it is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings."[13]

A Jew may, however, forgive if they choose even if the offender has not apologized:

  • If one who has been wronged by another does not wish to rebuke or speak to the offender — because the offender is simple or confused — then if he sincerely forgives him, neither bearing him ill-will nor administering a reprimand, he acts according to the standard of the pious. (Deot 6:9)

Jews observe a Day of Atonement Yom Kippur on the day before God makes decisions regarding what will happen during the coming year.[12] Just prior to Yom Kippur, Jews will ask forgiveness of those they have wronged during the prior year (if they have not already done so).[12] During Yom Kippur itself, Jews fast and pray for God's forgiveness for the transgressions they have made against God in the prior year.[12] Sincere repentance is required, and once again, God can only forgive one for the sins one has committed against God; this is why it is necessary for Jews also to seek the forgiveness of those people who they have wronged.[12]

Heinrich Heine, a famous Jewish writer, used to say: "Dieu me pardonnera; c'est son metier." (God will forgive me; that's his job.) This is of course connected with the famous saying: "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner." (To understand everything is to forgive everything.) God understands everyone and everything. Therefore, he forgives everything and everyone.


Jainism is about total equivalency. You do not hate or love in this religion. So there were times far back when the great Thirthankars were in deep meditation, and others would harm them, they would be so deep in meditation that they would not be hurt. So when the thirthanker opened his eyes, he noticed the wounds and forgave them all. Therefore, all Jains are supposed to be able to forgive anyone, no matter what happened. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

  1. (2006). The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Christianity and Buddhism. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  2. (2006). Psychjourney – Introduction to Buddhism Series. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  3. (2006). Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery - Universal Loving Kindness. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  4. (2006). Spirit of Vatican II: Buddhism – Buddhism and Forgiveness. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  5. (2006). Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery - Preparing for Death. URL accessed on 2006-06-19.
  6. (2006). Forgiveness versus Might - Anger ( URL accessed on 2006-03-11.
  7. Huston Smith, The World's Religions, Harper SanFrancisco, first ed 1958, p. 34 ISBN 0-06-250811-3
  8. (2006). Islam online. Forgiveness: Islamic Perspective. URL accessed on 2006-03-14.
  9. Qur'an 9:12- "Fight ye the chiefs of the unbelievers."
  10. (2006). Pakistanlink. Forgiveness in Islam. URL accessed on 2006-04-15.
  11. (2006). halachic opinion rendered by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg. URL accessed on 2006-04-26.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 (2006). JewFAQ discussion of forgiveness on Yom Kippur. URL accessed on 2006-04-26.
  13. (2006). Covenant and Conversation. URL accessed on 2006-03-14.