The two levels of forgiveness

“All should be forgiven, and the thoughtless especially.”

Leo Tolstoy, Where Love Is (New York, 1915), page 20.

The Lord taught us to forgive at two levels.

Down in our hearts, our forgiveness must be unconditional, since God forgives us: “. . . as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  This forgiveness is absolute, before God.

Up at the level of our relationships, forgiveness is conditional: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).  How can we forgive a sin that hasn’t been confessed?  For the relationship to be restored, the offender must repent.

But what if he or she doesn’t repent?  Or doesn’t even see the offense?  The relationship might remain awkward.  But again, down in our hearts, “. . . and the thoughtless especially.”  This is the more costly forgiveness, because it is unseen, unacknowledged, unthanked.  But we have every reason to accept this, and joyfully.  How much of our own sins and his faithful forgiveness do we see?

But when we are weak, we can always remember — God does see.  “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), he says.  As in everything else, all that ultimately matters is God.

Every moment, deep within, we are coram Deo.  Let it be enough.