Our friend’s excellent essay continues on this important subject:
Note what God does not do when He forgives. God does not forgive us from a distance, or privately —we’d all go to hell if He did. I know this is absurd, but He does not forgive so He can heal or so He can avoid “feelings” of revenge or resentment or bitterness because the essence of forgiveness has nothing to do with feelings. It is important to note in the verses I mentioned that when forgiveness occurs, God’s attitude and relationship toward us does change, i.e. ‘retains His anger’ and has compassion on us.
But we also change in our attitude and relationship to God as well. We’re no longer at enmity with God. It’s not like God forgives us while allowing us to go on in our sin. God does not forgive us while we remain His enemies and continues to distance Himself from us. God is the one producing this change, but the relationship does in fact change drastically following forgiveness. This informs us a lot about what forgiveness should look like when we forgive, since we must forgive like Christ. There will be change in the relationship and this change occurs because of repentance on the part of the one who did the sinning. But it goes both ways.
We need to also reflect Christ in His ‘UNforgiveness’ when we don’t forgive others. We actually have authority to withhold forgiveness when it’s wrong to extend it (John 20:23). So if you have a person in your life you can’t forgive, if you’re a genuine Christian, there might be a good reason why.
We need to also look at how forgiveness —and each of its components —plays out in human to human relationships in the Bible. This will teach us what particular aspects of God’s forgiveness don’t play out exactly the same in human relationships. One classic story is with Joseph and his brothers, who betrayed him horribly and sold him into slavery out of pure envy and hatred.
People are always in awe of how forgiving Joseph is of his brothers. But they don’t emphasize the fact that it was probably about 20 years later that he did this, if you add up all the years he was gone. He had time to process what happened, and to heal, and to be able to look back on the events and see a purpose in them. No doubt such a betrayal must have been extremely traumatic for him, and would not have been able to forgive right away. I think that should be very understandable with any of us who experience betrayal at the hands of wicked family or church members or anyone we should have been able to trust.