Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Gianna Volonte: Love, Compassion and Forgiveness

November 15, 2019

Professor Mahallati

RELG 390

Response Paper 3

Word Count: 1199

Forgiveness and apology are two concepts that are necessary to the success and functionality of a healthy society.  However, it is not uncommon that we find instances of unforgiveness and resentment or violence and hatred that breed distrust and animosity in our communities. How can we, then, begin the path towards learning to forgive each other in our everyday lives?  We can start by looking for answers in perhaps the most popular sect of society, religion.  Religion, specifically Christianity and Islam, is filled with statements and professions of love, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness and therefore serves as an ideal first step on the path of forgiveness and apology.  The Christian and Islamic texts, the Bible and the Qur’an, both introduce God or Allah as the source of love and compassion. It follows then, that as His children we must also express love and compassion towards each other[1].  Turning these feelings of love and compassion into methods of forgiveness is a process that has been studied by many but for this paper we will be drawing from the analyses of Nigel Biggar, David Tombs and Glen Pettigrove. Nigel Biggar, in his piece The Ethics of Forgiveness and the Doctrine of Just War, proposes two methods of forgiveness: forgiveness-of-compassion and forgiveness-of-repentance. Tombs further develops this proposal by asserting that the former is strictly religious while the latter is psychological and philosophical[2].  I, however, would like to build on these statements and argue that both “moments” of forgiveness are religious.  Put more specifically, forgiveness-of-compassion requires religious concepts of love and compassion from the transgressed while forgiveness-of-repentance requires love and compassion from the transgressor.  By drawing on these religious texts and the arguments presented by Biggar,Tombs and Pettigrove, I will state a case for how religious concepts can help with apology and forgiveness in day-to-day life.   

I would like to start by distinguishing the type of forgiveness and by default, wrongdoing, that is present in everyday lives. This is of the type done by those who you interact with every day, your family, friends, teachers, colleagues, students, and the like. Typically, the people you love or have affection or compassion for. This love need not be romantic but can be platonic and in some instances, you may not even feel love for another, but rather you are committed to their well-being. Further, the general wrongs that they commit are often not detrimental to a relationship but can still cause long-lasting resentment, anger and damage to whatever relationship existed before the transgression.  The purpose of religion, in this case, deals specifically with the commitment to love. For if we “love for [our] brother or our [neighbor] what we love for [ourselves]” [3]then one has already begun the path to forgiveness before it becomes necessary. In another sense, it is easier to forgive a transgressor when the transgressed has love for them before the wrong doing. Therefore, in practicing the religious commitment to love and compassion for “thy neighbor,” one has already set themselves up to forgive the transgressor.  In support of this argument Pettigrove writes, “love must in the end yield forgiveness.”[4]

This relationship of love and forgiveness is the background needed to understand Nigel Biggar’s first moment of forgiveness, forgiveness-of-compassion.  Biggar and Tombs both argue that forgiveness-of-compassion is rooted in religious and theological conceptions because it is the unconditional form of forgiveness[5].  Unconditional forgiveness is that which is not predicated with a statement of repentance but simply stems from love, compassion or acceptance of the transgressor, and is further deemed religious because of the commitment to love and compassion in the Bible and the Qur’an.  More so, encouraging forgiveness-of-compassion denounces all opportunity for revenge and seeks out reconciliation[6].

For those who would rather opt out of forgiveness-of-compassion and believe they deserve an apology, there is forgiveness-of-repentance. As stated earlier, forgiveness-of-repentance is seen by Biggar and Tombs to be psychological and philosophical. This is due to the fact that the transgressor has psychologically damaged their image in the transgressed’s mind.  By the act of the wrong doing, the transgressor has become untrustworthy and has to do or say something to atone for that wrong doing and “repair” the psyche of the transgressed.  Further, forgiveness-of-repentance is deemed philosophical because forgiveness does not naturally follow immediately after transgression. On philosophical terms, the wrong doing is committed, the wrong doer accepts and admits their fault, and then forgiveness is given after some allotted amount of time. Under these circumstances, forgiveness-of-compassion violates the second premise and therefore remains religious and theological. 

I propose, however, that forgiveness-of-repentance is psychological, philosophical and religious because it is acted on by many of the same religious concepts as forgiveness-of-compassion.  The difference here, though, is in the notion that instead of the victimexpressing love, compassion and acceptance, it is the transgressor. True repentance stems from a desire to repair a damaged relationship, which, in turn, stems from affection for the one with whom the relationship was with.  With the religious concepts of love, compassion and acceptance in mind before the transgression occurs then the transgressor will be more willing to accept what they did as wrong and ask for forgiveness out of the love they have for the victim.  This idea, also, does not have to be limited to a two-party relationship. Forgiveness-of-repentance, admitting your wrongs and apologizing can also be within oneself. Self-forgiveness is equally as hard, if not harder than asking forgiveness of another and it only falls under forgiveness-of-repentance because unconditionally forgiving oneself is not morally acceptable. For doing so would be forgiving yourself out of narcissistic dispositions.  Anyhow, forgiveness-of-repentance to the self requires one to admit the wrong doing and further find a way to forgive themselves.  Doing so can only motivated by love for oneself for if it is done out of spite, anger, or impatience it is not true forgiveness.    Therefore, Pettigrove’s assertion that “unless it is to be compromised, transformed into love of a lesser sort, love must in the end yield forgiveness”[7]can not only be applied to forgiveness-of-compassion but also forgiveness-of-repentance. 

With the support of Biggar, Tombs and Pettigrove it is clear now that both of Biggar’s moments of forgiveness- forgiveness-of-compassion and forgiveness-of-repentance- can be qualified as religious due to their commitments to love, compassion and acceptance.  By committing ourselves to living lives filled with these three notions we pave the path for forgiveness shall we ever need to follow it. When the time comes that we do need to follow it, we will be willing to either forgive unconditionally or accept our faults and admit to our wrong doings. 


[1]Sahih Bukhari 13 and Matt 22:39

[2]David Tombs, The Offer of Forgiveness,The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 36, No. 4 (December 2008), 589

[3]Sahih Bukhari 13

[4]Glen Pettigrove,Forgiveness and Love, 103

[5]Nigel Biggar,Ethics of Forgiveness and the Doctrine of Just War: A Religious View of Righting Atrocious Wrongs, The Religious in Response to Mass Atrocity, 111

[6]Biggar, Ethics of Forgiveness and the Doctrine of Just War: A Religious View of Righting Atrocious Wrongs, 113

[7]Pettigrove,Forgiveness and Love, 103

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