Perhaps we’re more willing to forgive when someone admits their wrongdoing, apologizes for the harm they’ve caused, and seeks to make amends as best as they can. This is still not always easy, but their repair attempts certainly helps to soften our hearts toward them. But Jesus calls us to an even higher standard by modeling proactive forgiveness.
As he was hung on the cross, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who hung him there because they didn’t know what they were doing. And, to be sure, this is part of God demonstrating his love for us even while we were still sinners. He extends grace and mercy in our times of ignorance.
And this is part of how we are to practice forgiveness as well.
This might be easiest to see with kids. We’re generally quick to forgive them when they break things or hurt us, even when they’re angry and upset, because we know they’re just kids and don’t fully understand the consequences of what they’re doing. Of course, there’s still a place for teaching and correction, but we don’t hold their sins of ignorance against them.
While this is harder to do in our adult relationships, the principle still applies. More often than not, it seems our sins against each other are sins of immaturity rather than sins of malice. The action is still not okay, but it helps to remember it didn’t come from a heart of ill-will.
And it’s in remembering this that we can then proactively extend forgiveness. When we are accused, blamed, or disrespected unjustly, we can remember this is often fueled by blindness, fear, and immaturity. And while we don’t turn a blind eye or otherwise ignore these sins, we can still follow the example of Christ to forgive anyway – not holding their times of weakness against them.
In the end, Christ reminds us that forgiveness does not always require the other person to fully understand their wrongdoings. Proactive forgiveness is the choice to extend grace and mercy to those who have hurt us even without realizing what they were doing.