How do you forgive the people who have never sought your forgiveness? And what do you do when you have sought to restore fellowship and the other person just won’t respond?These are two tricky situations and here are just a few thoughts. Every situation is different, so of course there is no “three steps to a quick solution.” But, we can and should do all in our power to put things right. Sometimes you have to accept the fact that there is nothing more you can do.
Let’s begin with the people who never seek your forgiveness. You just can’t go through your whole life being miserable about how someone wronged you long ago. If they were the ones who sinned in the first place, there is no sense getting bitter. Why? Because that puts you into sin as a result of their sin. That is like lying down on the ground and letting your enemy put his foot on your neck. That is what bitterness does to you: it wields power over you, giving the adversary (the devil) the advantage. So we ought to first get rid of any bitterness. Then we must make sure that we are in a mindset to forgive. The best way I can think of to test whether or not you are able to forgive someone is to imagine how you would react if they came to your door and apologized. If you know for a fact that you would readily extend forgiveness to them, then I don’t think you have an unforgiving spirit. But if you know that you would not be disposed to forgive them readily, then you have some work to do.
Because forgiveness is a transaction of sorts, it is difficult to say you have forgiven someone when they have never sought your forgiveness. But Jesus asked God to forgive those men who crucified him, and they certainly did not seek His forgiveness. We are to forgive those who trespass against us. So that means our hearts must be disposed to forgive, even if they never ask. We cannot devote our thoughts to how they wronged us if we have forgiven them. We cannot think up snappy comebacks if we have forgiven them. If we have really forgiven, we are able to press on, and their old sin becomes completely irrelevant to us and our lives.
Some people carry their past around behind them like a ball and chain. They think of how they have been wronged and mistreated, misunderstood or ignored. It is very easy to remember the sins of others and forget how much we provoked them. Sometimes I think it helps to simply make a list of all the grievances you have against others. Then you can pray through the list, one grievance at a time, asking God to forgive you for holding a grudge. Then you can ask God to give you the grace to forgive those who wronged you. Only then can you breathe a sigh of relief that God has chucked your record-keeping far from you, and you can move on. Sometimes going through the list may work for a while, but then all the memories and the bitterness comes back. That is a very predictable temptation and you have to refuse to go there, reminding yourself that it has all been forgiven.
There is much provocation in this world. We have to be the kind of people who can overlook it. If we are always waiting around for an apology, chances are good we will be constantly provoked.