Crusty and Cliff are friends. Crusty says something mean about Cliff. Cliff feels hurt and betrayed. Crusty feels terrible for having said it. Crusty wants to apologize but Cliff needs more time.
One of the most difficult teachings of Christ is that we need to forgive all men. He doesn’t ever say “forgive only those who show remorse.” or “forgive all men, except those who raped your wife.” or any other conditional statement. There’s not much gray area in this commandment as it’s very clear which people we are to forgive (all of them).
However, what Christ does NOT do is give us a timetable by which we need to do the forgiving. Sure there are examples of those who quickly forgave, but the importance of doing so is never explicitly emphasized in scripture. Does this mean we can take our time, that it’s okay to hold out forgiveness until our pain has subsided? (is that even forgiveness at that point if there’s no pain?)
In one of his most brilliant teaching moments, CS Lewis says this:
When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.
In other words, forgiveness should be immediate. Not because that’s what God wants us to do, but because that’s how God wants us to be (like him, a being who forgives immediately). He is in the business of changing his children into gods, not getting them to do the things that gods do.
Of course, this is easier said than being.