"O Lord our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy." (Psalm 99:8 NRS)
Forgiveness is one of those tricky turns on the road of faith.
In the context of God forgiving us, forgiveness is a wide-open superhighway, expensively maintained and easily accessed. I am glad to travel down the road of God's forgiveness of me.
Forgiveness in the context of me forgiving others, though, is a narrow, uneven, rocky, twisting path. I'd rather not walk down this road. But walk it I must, because God minces no words in His Word about my forgiveness of others as it relates to His forgiveness of me: "If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14,15).
"But God, they hurt me," I protest. He answers, "I forgave someone who hurt me."
"But God, they betrayed me," I protest. He answers, "I forgave someone who betrayed me."
"But God, they aren't even sorry," I protest. He answers, "I forgave someone who wasn't sorry."
"But God, they haven't paid for what they did," I protest. He answers, "I forgave someone who didn't pay for what they did."
"But God, they don't deserve to be forgiven," I protest. He answers, "I forgave someone who didn't deserve to be forgiven. Now do what I have done for you, my someone."
I get tripped up when I start to think that forgiving someone means excusing what they did...saying it's okay...releasing them from any consequences. Yet God forgives me all the time without condoning what I've done or excusing me from all the ripple effects of my sins. Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook; it's about letting go of my "right" to reel them in. Forgiveness is not actually between me and the person I need to forgive; it's between me and God. If I make it about the person I need to forgive, that person has come between me and God.
Oh friends, I know this is so hard. But there is no path of forgiveness God asks us to walk that He has not already walked Himself. We are not breaking the path; we are following the Forgiving God's lead. When we do, we find that the route of forgiveness is not a one-way street but rather a round-about, with God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others passing one another and continuing to circle around again and again, until the day we exit at last onto God's mountain. There, we'll cry "holy" alongside people we've forgiven and people who've forgiven us as together, we worship at the feet of the One who has forgiven all.