Forgiveness gives grace but it also requires grace. We need to be open and honest with our Lord, admitting to Him when we don’t want to forgive someone. We argue our case with God, pouring out our rationale for why we should not forgive them. But in the end, He will point us to Jesus and remind us that on Him our sins were laid, not in part but the whole. The guilt of our transgressions was removed from us, as far as the east is from the west.
…bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Col. 3:13, NKJV)
Just about everyone is willing to forgive, until they’re not. In principle, forgiveness is a proper thing, part of the DNA of the Christian faith. But when the stark reality of actually granting someone forgiveness sets in on us, the prospect becomes a different story.
A wife will say, “I could forgive him anything else but not that.” Years after they left a church, people continue to hold tightly to a grudge against their former pastor. In their new congregation they sing of forgiveness and mouth the Lord’s Prayer, but it amounts to little more than lip service. The act of forgiveness is supposed to lance the boil of bitterness but we recoil at the pain and leave it to fester.
If we’re honest with ourselves, where do we draw the line? To what extent are we willing to go? What is the threshold of too great an offense to forgive?
It’s actually much lower than we might think. People will forgive only if the hurt caused by the other’s offense if not too deep or the wrong not too egregious. Sometimes we forgive only if we discern an acceptable measure of what we deem “repentance.” Or we may forgive but not really let the person off the hook. Like the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35) we place the one in our debt in debtors’ prison, exacting the penalty they deserve. We may temper our forgiveness with a “yes, but” of qualifications, conditions, and consequences.