There is an intermediate step between a wrongdoing and forgiveness.
I have this axiom of wisdom that I live by. If there is no Bible verse or other piece of traditional wisdom literature to back it up, there should be.
Don’t complicate that which is inherently simple.
Don’t simplify that which is inherently complicated.
Know the difference.
I assess the topic of forgiveness as moderately complex. However, it is clear that it is a major component of the faith, and therefore I presuppose that it must not be TOO complex because the least erudite and sophisticated believer needs to be able to understand it.
I propose that there are several things going on here that even a person with an IQ of about 80 can get.
First – Restoration is the Ideal
Jack described Forgiveness has having two subtypes. I conceptualize this difference to be the vertical (between you and God) and the horizontal (between you and others). These two types of forgiveness share some things in common, but they also have some pretty significant differences.
One thing to think about, regarding how they are different is this–it is implied, even in Luke 17:3-4 that the repentance may or may not be “real” or truly heartfelt and contrite. After all, if he comes to you 7 times in a day, you would naturally get a little suspicious. This part appears to be left to the victim to deal with. But God knows if you really “mean it” and can see right through a lame half-ass repentance. So, you shouldn’t really try one of those with him.
Jack said that it is a misconception that forgiveness necessarily means a full restoration and forgetting the transgression. I say this is not so much a misconception, but an ideal. We should try, with everything we have in our messy, screwed up souls to COMPLETELY restore relationships between each other through the processes laid out in scripture. And we will fail, as we often do. But at the same time, this is why the path to forgiveness is not negotiable in my view.
There are situations where reaching this ideal is just impossible in the temporal world.
Wife cheated on you, left, and divorced you? You got remarried and have a whole new family? Can’t really restore that one, even if she repents, fully and completely. Got it.
Only GOD can do forgiveness perfectly. Perfectly means completely restored, forgotten and the forgiver treats the issue as if it never happened. Ever done that? If not, your forgiveness is flawed, and fails to meet the standard God set forth. But you can’t get there without accountability and repentance. Don’t worry about it, just keep trying.
Second – Letting it go
There is an intermediate step between the wrongdoing and forgiveness, and that is holding a grudge. For most people, dealing with the psychological/emotional impact is the hardest part of forgiveness. Getting over this step is what many of us call “letting it go”. This is where you pile up all the stupid crap that people do to you, throw a blanket of love over it, and move on.
Jack referred to a few scriptures that allude to this step as glorifying and showing true love. Yes, it’s REALLY important in close relationships like marriage. Love does not keep a precise accounting of wrongs done. (1st Corinthians 13:4-7) But Christ does indeed explicitly tell us that actively, angrily, bitterly holding a grudge will destroy your soul. And it is a sin.*
There is huge and broad spectrum of what letting it go might look like in any particular situation, but it allows the transgressor to come back, sometimes YEARS later and repent and then true forgiveness can be obtained.
* I would add this personal note: I personally have not struggled with this, thank God. For all my problems, I am not a natural grudge holder. I love reconciliation. I crave it, and hold it out for anyone I may have even the slightest disagreement with. The story of the prodigal son is exactly the kind of dad I would be in a situation like that.
Third – Talking Past Each Other
I want to acknowledge that some of us writing on here are saying what looks like the same thing, and arguing where no argument is needed. I agree whole heartedly with Jack, for example, that if one is holding out for repentance for every single unintentional slight, you will be in this sin-repentance-forgiveness cycle all day, every day. But, I covered that. That’s “letting it go.” I hold the process out for really bad, big stuff.
To put an ever finer point on it, I think the way I am describing it is how the majority of Christians, even the most reverent ones functionally, and realistically already live their lives. So its not really mind-blowing, life-changing theology.
The need for forgiveness applies to everyone, no matter what their religious beliefs are. When I read people discussing how repentance can only be done by “real” or “regenerate” Christians, and how is a gift they received way back in eternity sometime, it’s like eyewash to me. That’s super cool for seminary discussions but it’s the kind of stuff that makes regular people think we are a navel gazing club of weirdos.
It’s the reason I hated seminary.