Jesus asks us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’. Which means forgiveness must be unlimited. There is no point in being glib about forgiveness, or pretending that it is easy. It is never easy. Without the grace of God it is sometimes impossible. When we get hurt, we naturally grow resentful and bitter. Resentment and bitterness are very dangerous things, and we cannot be healed of them unless we forgive.
We all need to forgive because at one time or another we all have been hurt. But what can we do? We must realize that forgiveness cannot be achieved overnight. It is not something that happens in one go. Forgiveness is a process, and like all processes it takes time. There are steps we can take, which, with the grace of God, will lead to forgiveness and healing of the hurt.
We must recognize that a wrong has been done to us. There is no point in pretending it didn’t happen.
We must recognize that we have feelings about this – feelings of anger and hurt. These feelings are not sins. In fact, they are natural and healthy.
We should talk about these feelings. If we can’t do this with the person who has hurt us, we should do it with someone else.
Then at some point we make a decision to forgive. Forgiveness is an act of the will. But this doesn’t mean that feelings of hurt and bitterness will suddenly disappear. The healing of these will take time.
Finally we have to make a decision about our relationship with the person who has hurt us. Here we have three choices: to continue it, break it off for a while, or discontinue it altogether. Reconciliation is not always possible. It takes two to be reconciled.
Unless we forgive others we ourselves will not be forgiven. It is not that God is vindictive. It is just that if we do not forgive others we make it impossible for ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness. Imagine two people living in the same room, one of whom closes the blind because he doesn’t want the other to enjoy the sunlight. But in so doing he also deprives himself of the sunlight.
It’s not a question of forgiving if and when the offender repents. We are expected to forgive even if the offender doesn’t repent – that is what makes it so difficult, and why we need God’s grace.
We need to pray for the gift of forgiveness. Unless we forgive, we will not be able to let go of bitterness and resentment, and so will not know peace or healing. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It means remembering and letting go. Forgiveness is a holy task. Only God can help us to accomplish it fully.