Permission or Forgiveness?
I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. I’ve also found it to be true in practice. It is easier. A lot easier! Maybe you’ve found that to be true too. Perhaps you’ve also observed others who seem to operate by this principle in virtually every matter. We can easily accept this principle as a universal truth and so shape our actions accordingly.
It’s certainly easier to do something without the accountability or approval of others. People ask questions or make suggestions – how annoying! If taking the path of least resistance is appealing, then asking for forgiveness instead of permission can become a way of life. We rationalize that some opportunities are time-sensitive. The input of others could prevent important things from happening. If things work out well, take the credit; if not, just ask for forgiveness.
But over time I have come to realize a single, massive problem with this philosophy: It isn’t rooted in the Gospel. In fact, it’s the very opposite of the Gospel. Here are three reasons why:
#1 It’s self-centered.
Easier? Yes, but…easier for whom? Obviously, it’s easier for the person doing the asking. Not for the person who is being put in a position that will soon be asked for forgiveness. The implications of the Gospel are that loving others will directly correlate to loving God (Matt. 22:38-40). The essence of living in light of the good news about Jesus is to treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31). To willingly act in such a way as to disregard the reasonable objections or questions from the people God has placed into our lives is self-centered.
#2 It’s deceptive.
This is obvious. To anticipate asking someone for forgiveness in advance, while hiding an action, is deceptive. Deception is characteristic of the old self (Col. 3:9-15) and is fundamentally a failure to love (Rom. 13:8-10). If a decision impacts others, and their expectation for input is reasonable, then knowingly avoiding them is equivalent to a lie.
#3 It takes advantage of others.
This way of thinking assumes that others will – or should – extend forgiveness when asked. But believing the Gospel means a call to use our freedom to serve, not to be served (Gal. 5:13-15). Living this way doesn’t others build up; it only deteriorates relationships. Instead of honoring the good intentions of those who would genuinely offer forgiveness, we cheapen their Grace-fueled kindness by taking advantage of it to suit ourselves.
How should we live instead? Lean into relationships. Listen to others. Don’t assume we know enough on our own to make decisions affecting others without listening to their perspective beforehand. Treat forgiveness as a gift – not as an entitlement. And, above all, tell the truth.
What do you think? Is there ever a situation in which this principle is valid? Can it ever be reconciled with the Gospel?