Whether we like it or not, God commands us to forgive when others wrong us. There are no qualifiers and no exception clauses to the command. God just says, “Forgive!” Additionally, he said that if we do not forgive others, our sins won’t be forgiven either (Matthew 6:14-15). We are expected to forgive no matter what the circumstances and no matter how many times we are offended--seventy times seven, as Jesus puts it (Matt. 18:21-22). The number seventy means countless times, while seven signifies perfection. This means that Jesus expects us to forgive others countless times to perfection or infinity. Forgiveness is important because not only is it a command from God, it's also good for us. If we will not forgive, we carry around forever the burden of being a poor, poor victim. Forgiveness releases us from oppressive people. Even Jesus, our example in all things, forgave from the cross (immediately) those who were torturing and murdering Him. Should we do less?
Below is a description of the process I have found to be very helpful.
Your relationship with the offender will depend on their response to the situation.
Choose to pursue healing for yourself personally even if the relationship isn't repairable. Remember that the offender is a small, broken creature in need of God's grace, just as we all are. Seeking healing for the relationship whenever possible, but recognize there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
Reconciliation is not always possible
Forgiveness is dependent on the person who was wronged (you), while reconciliation requires the cooperation of both parties. You can forgive and find healing without the reconciliation of the relationship.
Trust takes time
We don't forget the pain that we have experienced, but over time we can gain perspective about it. Forgiveness is not necessarily synonymous with trust. We can forgive and still wonder if the bad behavior will be repeated. It takes time for trust to be rebuilt. Trust grows as we witness a pattern of good behavior established over time.
Sometimes reconciliation shouldn't happen
Some people flagrantly practice behavior that simply isn't safe--physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Some people engage in destructive behavior that is too toxic be around or to have one’s children around. We must forgive, but we must also exercise godly wisdom in setting boundaries. Matthew 18:15-20 walks us through the process of holding someone accountable when they sin against us. We confront the behavior and bring in accountability and boundaries as we work toward healing.
A word of caution is necessary here. Be careful that you have actually forgiven the person and that you are not using safety as an excuse to continue to withhold forgiveness. Ask God to reveal your heart attitude to you and to guide you in any further relationship He wants you to have with the person.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster