When two children are interacting, it’s not uncommon for an adult to have to intervene when a conflict breaks out. It is also not uncommon that once the transgression in sorted out for the adult to say to one of the children, “you need to apologize.” Hopefully, the child dutifully does so, and play once again resumes.
What’s interesting about this is that while we teach children about seeking forgiveness (and this is a good thing), we are less inclined to teach children about how to forgive. The scenario enacted above assumes that forgiveness is given once an apology has been issued. Without an apology, restoration is not proffered.
This is of course contrary to a biblical explanation of forgiveness. We forgive others not because of their contrition or whether they deserve it because God has forgiven us much. Overlooking an offense is commended (Prov. 19:11), a situation where an apology is rarely present. Forgiving repeatedly is instructed, and is the expectation for every Christ follower (Mt. 18:21-22).
Perhaps there is no relationship where this is more important than our relationship with our spouse. While it is tempting to demand apologies and heart-felt regret before forgiveness will be given, how much more would our relationships benefit from forgiveness even before it’s been requested. If we forgave willingly and eagerly in order to maintain the bonds of our relationship, overlooking slight affronts, our marriage is stronger than it otherwise may be.
Of course, it is not possible to overlook everything. There are some issues that need to be dealt with and we should do so in a biblical manner. However, even in these instances we would be wise to choose forgiveness even before resolution occurs. After all, Christ has forgiven us many worse offenses (Col. 3:13).