Forgiveness is one of the greatest blessings God offers to people. When I think of things the Bible says about God’s forgiveness of me and others like me, I am totally overwhelmed. When Jesus was crucified by the howling mob, screaming for his blood, his cry to the Father was, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” The crowd knew they were taking part in the execution of an innocent man. They knew they were participating in killing one who had gone to all kinds of efforts to heal their sicknesses and diseases, had taught them more clearly the way of God and had been the friend of even the tax collectors and sinners among them. But, based on their ignorance of who he was as the Son of God living among them as a human being, Jesus pleaded with the Father to forgive them.
It is worth remembering that even though Jesus prayed for their forgiveness based on that ignorance, many of these same people were back in Jerusalem fifty days later for the feast of Pentecost. On that day God sent the Holy Spirit miraculously on his disciples and people were able to hear them speak in their own languages even though all the speakers were Galileans. Peter stood before the crowd and preached Jesus to them telling them that they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God. The people cried out on feeling the guilt of their sins, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?” Notice, Peter didn’t say to them, “You don’t need to do anything since Jesus has already asked the Father to forgive you because you didn’t know what you were doing.” Jesus did pray for their forgiveness. Yet their guilt was still there. Peter being led by the Holy Spirit told them that everyone of them needed to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
God doesn’t forgive the sins of anyone based on our asking that He forgive them. To be forgiven of sin by God requires that I be willing through faith in Jesus to turn from that sin to God in repentance and be willing to do what he says to do to have the sins forgiven. Like, Jesus we need to be forgiving of others who have wronged us and not carry a grudge against them because it will eat away at us all the time. But my forgiving a person and even asking God to forgive them won’t lead to their forgiveness if they don’t make any changes in their life. Jesus prayer led to God giving the people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus through which they could be forgiven. It didn’t lead to their being forgiven while they were still living in rebellion to the Lord. I’ve heard people say they could never forgive another person for something they did to them that was horrible because they couldn’t let them off the hook. I need to know that my holding on to the sin and refusal to forgive keeps me on the hook. My forgiveness of the person releases me from it. But only God can release the sinner from the guilt of their sin and God doesn’t forgive unless the person is willing to admit the guilt and turn from the sin to him in repentance.
Forgiveness doesn’t make a person crazy or foolish. A friend was trying to explain why she had such a hard time forgiving a family member who had sexually abused her as a child. She said, “If I forgave him I would have to forget what he did to me and allow my little girl to be in his company where he might do the same thing to her.” When I asked her where in the world she got such an idea, she explained that if she forgave she was supposed to forget and if she forgot then she would have to treat the person as if they had never done the wrong. That is a huge misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. If a person has stolen money from me or borrowed money they never repaid and they asked for forgiveness, I am ready to forgive the sin, but it doesn’t make me brain dead so that I would loan them more money. When God forgives he doesn’t remember it against us anymore. But even God doesn’t release a person from the consequences of their sin. When David committed adultery and murder God forgave the sin, but immediately had Nathan the prophet to explain to David that the results of his sin would be that the baby conceived in the immoral relationship would die. The sword would never depart from his house. His own wives would be taken in the sight of all Israel as a result of his actions. Forgiveness meant he was still in a right relationship with God, but it didn’t mean that God took away the consequences of his sin.
When we forgive a person who has wronged us or our family it means that we release them from the sin. But it doesn’t mean that they are moved right back to where they were before the wrong ever took place. Forgiveness doesn’t bring trust. Only time and change in a person can lead to us having trust for them. We aren’t God and don’t have the ability to put a thing completely out of our mind the way God can and does. The best we can do is give one a release from the guilt and not act on our memories of wrongs done any longer.