Have you ever desperately wanted someone to apologize for wronging you, just so that you could forgive them? I have felt that way sometimes, because I’m a naturally tender-hearted sort of person. When relationships are broken, I long to make it right, even if I’m not the one at fault. So I wait… and wait… and wait. And the more I’m hurt, the less inclined I am to forgive. Yet all the while I keep hoping. If that person could just for one moment see what he’s done and how wrong he’s been, for one moment be willing and able to admit the whole truth, and then come to ask forgiveness for everything… how gladly would I give it! How thankful I would be for the healing of that relationship. Because that was all I ever wanted.
But what if that moment never comes? What if time moves on, and that person is never sorry, never sees that he’s been wrong, and maybe even continues to hurt you? Can you still say “I forgive you?” Must you still say “I forgive you?”
Forgiveness is a strange thing. The older I get, the more I realize I know nothing about it. On the one hand, God didn’t tell us to forgive… if the other person is sorry. He just told us to forgive. That seems to indicate that the answer is yes, we should extend that grace regardless. Yet when I think about exactly what the picture of forgiveness modeled by Christ’s sacrifice looks like, I realize that we can only receive his forgiveness if we ask for it. In a strange way (and I’m aware that this is very much a live debate, so I’m contributing nothing new here) I wonder whether perhaps it’s misleading to say that Jesus forgave our sins at that one moment in time on the cross. Should we not rather say that he made it possible for us to be forgiven? That he provided a way for us to obtain grace? There are people who will choose to live and die in their sin, because they rejected grace. And that means that God will not forgive their sin! The offer was there, the grace was extended—but they turned away from it.
And yet, when I look at Jesus’ words “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…” I am thrown back the other way. Here were these cruel, brutal men, obviously unrepentant, and Jesus was asking the Father to forgive them anyway. He was pleading for them because of their ignorance—they literally didn’t know what they were doing. But of course, that didn’t make the act any less evil. Jesus was still an innocent man, even if they didn’t think of him as God.
So ultimately, I have to say that I simply don’t understand just how forgiveness is supposed to work. It is a profound and beautiful mystery to me. In the past, I have thought that I was obliged to offer it no matter what, and I have offered it when it was not asked for. Part of me still feels that was right. I just know that I want to follow what God requires. The question is… how much exactly does He require?