Forgiveness is pardon.
When I was a teenager I borrowed several hundred dollars from my dad. I paid him back slowly as I worked but eventually he told me I didn’t have to repay him what I had borrowed. He forgave my debt; he pardoned me. I certainly owed him the money and he felt the pain of missing it, but he didn’t make me pay. Forgiveness is simply pardoning the debt someone owes.
Forgiveness is a position.
Legally OJ Simpson is not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Whether or not he actually committed those crimes does not matter because he has been tried and found not-guilty. For the rest of his life OJ Simpson is legally not guilty. Forgiveness is a legal status, or a legal position, in which I can place others. It does not mean they didn’t do something wrong, it simply means that I’m not holding it against them. Just like OJ’s legal position is not guilty, so I can make another’s position with me forgiven.
Forgiveness is learned.
Forgiveness does not come naturally to humans. Why would it? When someone hurts me the natural response is to hurt them back. The natural response is to exact justice. I naturally want people to pay for the pain they’ve caused me. But Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” This is the exact opposite of what comes naturally and so it is something that I must learn how to do.
Forgiveness isn’t approval.
In no way is forgiveness the approval of someone’s actions. God never suggests that my sin is acceptable to him, only that I don’t have to pay the consequences of that sin. Oftentimes forgiveness feels like approval but forgiveness is not an emotional decision, it is rational. Just because I place someone in the position of forgiven does not mean I’ve excused their behavior.
Forgiveness doesn’t remove all consequences
I heard about a family who forgave the drunk driver who took the life of their young daughter. Even though the family had forgiven the driver, he still went to jail. Actions have consequences, even when forgiven. When trust is broken relationships suffer, even when forgiveness is present. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything will be like it was before. In fact, that is an impossibility. There are always consequences for my sin even when I’m forgiven.
Forgiveness is limitless
Humans have limits to our ability to forgive. God does not. As I grow in my faith I’m learning that being transformed into the likeness of God has increased my capacity to forgive. God can forgive anything. I can forgive more than I used to, but still less than God. I am allowing God to teach me how forgive more. I can learn how to be a limitless forgiver.