How to help a Christian who cannot forgive themselves

(Karen James) #1

What’s the best advice to help a friend stuck in unforgiveness for themselves?

(SeanO) #2

@karenjames117 May Jesus grant your friend a heart and eyes to understand how deep and how wide is the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge. I think we each have to go on our own journey, but here are some things that have helped me.

Seek to Make Amends

If possible, try to make amends with anyone who has been wronged. That may not always be possible and they may not always receive it or it may not be the right time. But I think this is the right place to start.

Matthew 5:23-25 - Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

We All Must Rest in God’s Mercy - Join the Club

No matter what your friend has done, they are not unique. All people must rely entirely on God’s mercy for salvation.

Titus 3:3-5 - At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

He is Faithful to Forgive

1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

You Are New in Christ

If we are in Christ we are no longer our old selves - we are new in Him. The old is gone!

2 Cor 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Meditate on Psalms 51

Psalms 51 was written after David was confronted by Nathan about murdering Uriah and committing adultery with Bathsheba. Whatever your friend has done, it is almost certainly not worse than David’s sin. We see David process his feeling of utter unworthiness. We see him acknowledge that God is the chief one he has sinned against (even though he certainly sinned against Uriah as well). And we see him seek God’s cleansing through a broken and contrite heart, knowing that God will not despise such a broken heart.

I think meditating on this Psalm can be healing.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

Press Onward

It’s hard to spend time thinking about our past failures when we’re chasing after Jesus full throttle. So I think once we have repented we just charge full force ahead after the Savior.

Philippians 3:12-14 - Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

(Karen James) #3

Thanks Sean for your reply. Some helpful tips and scriptures there. He does know them but seems to dwell on guilt rather than on scripture. I appreciate your response.

(SeanO) #4

@karenjames117 To know them and to take them to heart are different things. The journey from the head to the heart is one of the longest roads sometimes. May Christ grant you wisdom as you seek to serve your friend through this season of struggle. May God in His mercy shed the light of His grace in their heart.

I thought you might find some of the following thoughts on the complex causes of depression helpful - your friend may be struggling on multiple levels. We humans are complex creatures.


While Christians have the hope of full redemption, we still live in a fallen world. Jesus even says, “In this world you will suffer, but do not be afraid, for I have conquered the world” (John 16:33) and God promises in Revelation to “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). Even Jesus wept!

Historically the Church has sometimes been too quick to point to one cause of depression. In reality, sometimes a depressed person just needs a weekend out in the woods. Sometimes they need to exercise more. Sometimes they need to remember God’s promises and spend more time in worship / prayer. Sometimes they need medication. Sometimes it may be a combination.

Sadness and brokenness are part of this fallen world and even men like King David and Job and Elijah suffered times of extreme emotional anguish. Here are a few resources that I thought would be helpful in understanding depression from a Christian perspective.

Ligonier Article

"One feature of this work that particularly commends it is its balance and moderation. Take, for example, the question, “what are the causes of depression?” Murray is unwilling to say that depression’s causes are exclusively physical (brain chemistry), spiritual (demon possession or personal sin), or mental (an overactive imagination). In company with the Puritans, Murray rightly recognizes the often unfathomable interrelations of mind and body, concluding that depression’s causes may be manifold, complex, and elusive.

If depression’s cause(s) are complex, then so also are its cures. Murray identifies four areas that together comprise what he calls a “‘package’ of healing”: lifestyle, false thoughts, brain chemistry, spiritual life (70-86). None should be considered to the exclusion of the others. Each should be part of a comprehensive approach to one’s own or to another’s depression."

(Andrea L) #5

For me the most breathtaking revelation about forgiveness in general was that it is not a feeling, it is a decision. So it’s not like I forgive when I feel like, when my feelings have changed, but I declare with my spoken words that I forgive, and then, over time, my feelings will change accordingly. I think God cannot work on our feelings until we let Him to do so. And I see the lack of forgiveness as a blocking factor.
I remember how long it took me to be able to declare that I forgive myself. It was more challenging than forgiving anyone else. I have come to the conclusion, that if God has forgiven me (when I repented) then I have no right at all not to forgive myself.
I hope it makes sense :slight_smile:

(Cameron Kufner) #6

If I may add an interesting question on top of the original. Should we focus on forgiving ourselves? We need a savior, we need forgiveness from that savior. If we could forgive ourselves, isn’t that pushing the need to cling on to the forgiveness of Christ right out the door? I don’t think God has asked us to forgive ourselves. God can heal wounds and hurts, but I believe the forgiveness of God is enough. I believe God can heal wounds. I could be wrong with my current view, but in my current perspective I see only the need for Gods forgiveness, not my own forgiveness. God bless!

(Karen James) #7

Thank you Cameron, I think your right we’re not told to forgive ourselves, we do need to trust in God’s forgiveness and the work of the Cross.

(Karen James) #8

Thanks Andrea, yes I agree it is a decision we need to make. God bless you in your journey x

(Karen James) #9

Thanks again Sean, some good points there. I know he has suffered depression in the past. Thanks for your input :grinning:

(Cameron Kufner) #10

Amen. But the beautiful thing to remember is that Jesus can heal wounds. He has healed my wounds, too many to count. But he has healed those wounds. Glory be to our Lord, Jesus Christ. God bless!

(Andrea L) #11

Very good point @CamKufner.
I’d say you are right but it’s a journey to get to here.
I am sure there are many, who even after asking God’s forgiveness still keep up beating themselves up for their (already repented) mistakes. For them, it is a huge and important step to get to the freedom in Christ to declare that they forgive themselves. And yes, hopefully, we all get to the point that it is not necessary, but until then keeping unforgiveness within ourselves against ourselves is an obstacle to receive what God has planned for us. Whether the unforgiveness is against others or ourselves it still keeps poisoning us.
One of the reasons to feel resentment on(?) ourselves I think might be originated in the lack of experiencing unconditional love. Being brought up I was loved when I proved I was worthy. I was loved when I get an A. Getting a C for a simple test (=mistake) was end of the world. I never felt worthy of love for who I was, only for what I achieved. I could declare countless times that God loves me unconditionally, but I couldn’t receive it, as I still was angry with myself - for all the bad decisions I had made. On my journey it was a crucial point to forgive myself, so I could receive God’s unconditional love, as He loves me for who I am, despite my imperfectness. Took a few years though :slight_smile: but without it I couldn’t have put down my old stuff at the cross. It’s getting better now :slight_smile: how after acknowledging my mistake and repenting now I can leave it behind and not carry as a heavy backpack.
I hope it makes sense :slight_smile:

(Cameron Kufner) #12

I completely agree. I know that feeling. I beat myself up way too much over past sins and condemned myself for them. But, after I asked God to heal those wounds, they no longer bother me as much as they did. It’s a process, but like I said, God heals wounds, if that’s him working on behalf of me to forgive myself, I’m not sure, but all I know is that the work of the cross was enough. I just feel if I rely on the need to forgive myself, then I’m saying “Jesus, I need to forgive myself, I don’t need you to forgive me.” Which is obviously not the case. God bless!

(anon65845839) #13

I don’t mean this as a comprehensive answer, but simply an inquisitive peak under the rock, so to speak. A dark mind is not stemming out of truth but lies. Who am I to NOT agree with God when He says I AM forgiven? The question of pride comes up, no? My standards are higher than God’s? Or maybe I under appreciate the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. On the other hand…perhaps the individual is under conviction by the Spirit because they are NOT forgiven. Coming to Jesus by saying “I asked Him into my heart” does not the Gospel accomplish in the heart. I would be willing to illustrate that point more if need be…

(Tina Vartis) #14

I agree with @andrea.l that firstly forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice we make. If we waited for our feelings to catch up with the truth then some of us may never forgive ourselves and we would be stuck in self-loathing. What I found helpful when I went through a period of time when I could not forgive myself was when someone bluntly told me that if God could forgive me then who was I to stand above God and make my word about me greater than God’s word for me. That was the starting point and when I placed God back as my Lord (instead of me) then it allowed me to deal with the suffocating guilt that shrouded me. I also found reflecting on Psalm 51 was helpful - if King David struggled then I was in good company of being a less than perfect human being :slight_smile:

It’s important your friend finds someone that they are willing to talk through their guilt with to untangle any lies and to let God’s truth penetrate their heart and mind. The love and support of a mature Christian is tremendously helpful. Accepting God’s forgiveness is the beginning, He’ll then help your friend make choices which demonstrate his forgiveness being lived out in your friend’s life.

(Kathleen) #15

Thanks so much for this question, @karenjames117! This is quite the issue to wrestle with, and it’s one that I’ve had to work through in my own life. And I’m glad @CamKufner pointed out the difficulty in ‘forgiving ourselves’! It’s such a ingrained cultural mantra, and, in my opinion, it’s an unhelpful concept for those working though shame. Because, really, I believe that forgiving oneself is something that cannot be done. It’s not that it’s just difficult to do so, but that it’s impossible!

As I understand it, forgiveness is only something that can be extended to us or that we can extend to others. To extend it to ourselves seems a bit absurd. Forgiveness is something that can either be…

  1. offered TO us BY another in order for us to accept/reject OR
  2. offered BY us TO another in order for them to accept/reject

In other words, forgiveness is a transaction between two separate entities, and it follows that since the self is not a separate entity, it cannot be forgiven by itself. So, really, when we ‘can’t forgive ourselves’, what we are really doing is rejecting the offer of forgiveness and grace from the other, and, instead trying to earn favour back with God or the other instead of receiving the grace. What God given us freely and fully, let no human reject!

However, it can be difficult to truly help someone who’s caught in this rut. Sometimes, to try to help them understand something intellectually can be of service, however, oftentimes, it can lead to more frustration. No one wrestling with shame really wants to hear simplistic explanations when what they are experiencing is quite possibly intense, complex, and/or confusing. You’re going to have to help them get to the bottom of the shame, and that can be quite the process!

Has this friend tried many things to get out of this spiral, @karenjames117?

(Sarah Abigail Kuriakos) #16

Hi @karenjames117:

I felt compelled to respond to your question, because I struggle with this very problem on a daily, almost minute-to-minute basis myself, and I feel your friend’s pain deeply as he wrestles with this issue in his life.

I don’t know your friend’s background ~ what might have led to this struggle for him. For me it was a childhood of extreme abuse, where I was told all the time that what was being done to me was my fault. Of course it wasn’t, but when a child hears that on a daily basis, and when the perpetrator of these crimes also tells the child that he has to commit them because God hates that child ~ well, it was difficult for me to not believe that I was guilty.

I am fortunate that God had His hand on me from the very beginning, and He protected me from the very worst of the abuse, and I am very grateful for to Him for that. But I am still recovering from what happened to me in many ways. I have a very good Christian therapist, and I spend time reading God’s Word as often as I can, because I’ve found that that’s where the real freedom lies.

However, it’s still a constant struggle for me. I have good days, and I have not so good days. I’ve been a Christian for 47 years (tomorrow will be my born-again birthday, praise God), and God has wrought so much healing in me; I never thought my life would be this wonderful. But I still have a long way to go. And I’m grateful for Paul writing in Philippians, which says,

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. ~ Philippians 1:6, NLT.

So my suggestions would be to pray for your friend, and just be a friend to him. Also, encourage him to read the Bible on a regular basis ~ one of those read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year programs would be good. Tell him to start at the beginning and read to the end, and then start over at the beginning, and repeat over and over again. God is amazing, and so is His Word. I learn new and beautiful things everytime I read it, every single time.

So I hope that helps. I’ll be praying for your friend, @karenjames117. My heart aches for him! And by the way, I know now that God doesn’t hate me, that my father was probably projecting onto me how he felt about himself.

What a relief!! Hehehe!!