What exactly does forgiveness look like? There is no doubt that a lot depends on the people involved both the one forgiving and for the one being forgiven. I don’t think there is any one result that happens. A friend recently told me this story:
He had done something that deeply offended a dear friend, making a serious accusation against his friend that turned out not to be true. His friend walked away from him in disgust and anger.
When he realized that he had been wrong in what he had thought and said, he went to his friend and admitted he was wrong, asking for forgiveness. His friend told him that he forgave him, but never renewed the friendship. This man told me he pondered that for years thinking his friend never really forgave him, for if he had really forgiven him, the friendship would have continued on as before.
After many years, he said he came to realize that though his friend had forgiven him, his friend still held him accountable for what he had done. He said he had imagined wrongly that forgiveness was like a free pass – if you forgive me, you can’t hold me accountable for what I’ve done. But he said he realized his friend held him to a high standard of friendship – as friends we are accountable to one another, and we should not let friends off the hook too easily if we really value the other person and want them also to learn and grow in wisdom. We should never let someone off the hook if that only will enable them to continue to commit the same fault – for if they are really a friend they will want to learn and change.
He said he came to realize that in fact in his lifetime he had several times been let off the hook when he had done something that hurt another. He came to realize his friend wanted him to be the best person he possibly could be and that meant he had to learn accountability. A really profound lesson in forgiveness and friendship. He said he came to understand that his own apology was probably more self seeking – he didn’t want to lose his friend – whereas his apology really needed to include taking full responsibility for what he had done.
He had damaged the friendship irreparably and he had to take full responsibility for that. His friend may indeed have forgiven him but that meant he had to share in carrying the burden of the damage. His friend carried his share of the damage and he had to own up to carrying his own share of the damage done.