I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,
and your sins like mist;
return to me,
for I have redeemed you.
Return to me
The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation. Often you will hear people talk about forgiving as a kind of self-therapy, letting go of the hurt and anger at a harm done to you. It is good to do that, good to be free of bitterness, hurt, anger and revenge. But it is not quite the same as forgiveness.
Forgiveness clears the deck for reconciliation. It prepares us to receive the other again as friend rather than enemy. It’s why repentance is important to forgiveness – not the guilty regret we think of as repentance, but the clear-eyed recognition of the wrong, the awareness of the roots of that wrong, and the determination to travel a new path.
The man who killed my daughter said he was sorry, and I have no doubt that he was filled with regret and remorse. But “God, I wish I hadn’t done that,” is not quite “I was off course and it resulted in unthinkable wrong, but from here on I dedicate my life to a new path.”
Forgiveness creates an open path to reconciliation. But then we must walk that path. And so God says through the prophet: “Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” The redemption is done, the forgiveness complete, the sin wiped away, the past left behind. But now the people must turn toward God and walk the walk.
Forgiveness without reconciliation is a cheap knockoff of the real thing. God wants to walk with us. God wants us to walk with him. And this means a different life – not just a different life of prayer and thought and worship, but a different inner life that results in a different outer life towards others.