"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:25)A friend of mine recently asked for time to forgive. She's dealing with a complex offense and I suspect that the time is for sorting out her own feelings and responses and responsibilities in it. For that, there is certainly grace: "Take as much time as you need."
But often I think that asking for time to forgive is another way of saying, "I'm not ready to stop nursing this wound." In that case, we need to ask, "Lord, how long do you want me to live with unforgiveness?" Or, rephrased in a way that emphasizes the master/disciple relationship, "Lord, for how long are you instructing me to withhold forgiveness?"
There's always grace for our sin. And there's even grace for the sin of unforgiveness. But the expectation of grace is never an excuse for continuing in sin. Yes, each of us knows what it's like to go on sinning with full awareness that we will soon cast ourselves at God's grace. But let's not be comfortable with that. Let's not forget that it is only "hardness of heart" that does that.
Grace is not something we fill our cup with, it's a pool we swim in. We don't stand outside of grace, sipping from it, and filling our cup every time it starts to get empty. We take the plunge into grace and are immersed in it completely. It is expected that we live there. That's why Jesus said that God can't forgive us while we live with unforgiveness. To live without grace is to live outside of grace. Does that still scare us? Are we not alarmed to ask for more time to live outside of grace?
It seems to me that, for all the advancements we've made in understanding relationships, and the psychology of hurt and healing, we've moved away from what Jesus expected of forgiveness. We think of it as a feeling we extend, perhaps of warmth or renewed affection. But Jesus saw it as the act of an ambassador, extending God's grace on his behalf, for the restoration of relationship.
21 ...Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."22 And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone's sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." (John 20)And it's not that we're supposed to just go throwing around forgiveness everywhere. The Gospel is still clear that forgiveness comes through repentance. That's not because repentance is a "cost" you need to pay to receive forgiveness. Repentance is the discontinuation of an offense; forgiveness is the grace to let relationship be restored on the basis of that repentance.
So why do we need to take so long at it? Again, Jesus said,
3 So watch yourselves."If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them." (Luke 17)Wow. In our "I need time to forgive" culture, we would never be able to forgive someone seven times in one day. We have so complicated things. But do we really believe Jesus was clueless about it? Or can we return to a simple expectation of repentance and forgiveness?
Again, discernment of an offense is one thing; nursing of an offense is another. Be immersed in grace; be quick to forgive; be quick to restore relationship.