How does forgiveness occur if you avoid or never get the chance to offer forgiveness? While I cannot begin to explain forgiveness in an impossible situation, I do know that as a human being, I am limited in my knowledge and have no idea what the future holds. The two concepts that give me hope are that forgiveness is not dependent on another person's reaction and that our God is not confined by time and space even though we cannot comprehend reality in any other way.
Does forgiveness mean excusing repetitive behavior? In cases of abusive relationships and societal injustices such as racism and sexism, the book Forgiven and Forgiving makes an interesting distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Author L. William Countryman writes: "Forgiveness can hold open the possibility of reconciliation. ... The only forgiving and loving thing here is to demand change."
Although Anne of Green Gables was being forced to apologize and I was feeling bereft of an apology, we had something in common. Both of us were focused on ourselves, not the goal of restoring peace. While a sincere apology is helpful in the forgiveness process, ultimately we should not rely on an act from the other party as part of the deal.
But what of remembrance? Do I forget? Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness says, “Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
Prayer was difficult. Our Lord’s prayer asks “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Surely this sin was a “trespass,” but it was not against me. It was against my friend. One who was vulnerable, victimized, and permanently changed. Is our prayer meant for that circumstance?
What happens if we have an unforgiving spirit? Hardness of heart, anxiety, worry about the future, self-deceit, unrealistic expectations of others, loneliness, and emptiness are some of consequences of an unforgiving spirit. Maintaining an unforgiving spirit allows my own pain to fester and grow blocking any opportunity to help others see God’s vision for a better future.