It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.  ~Lewis B. Smedes

Anytime forgiveness is handled like some sort of business deal it will come up short of accomplishing what it was intended to do.  Forgiveness is not a commodity to be traded.  When you cut through the smoke and get down to the evidence, broken relationships are more times than not the by-product of treating forgiveness as such.

You can forgive and not attain reconciliation. 

Forgiveness comes down to feeling taken advantage of but refusing to return the favor.  I quote Philip Yancey a bit I realize, however, he has some excellent insights on this issue in his book, What’s So Amazing about Grace?  Here he quotes theologian Helmut Thielicke, “a German who lived through the horrors of Nazism”—followed by a few of his own thoughts: 

‘This business of forgiving is by no means a simple thing…. We say, Very well, if the other fellow is sorry and begs my pardon, I will forgive him, then I’ll give in.  We make of forgiveness a law of reciprocity.  And this never works.  For then both of us say to ourselves, The other fellow has to make the first move.  And then I watch like a hawk to see whether the other person will flash a signal to me with his eyes or whether I can detect some small hint between the lines of his letter which shows he is sorry.  I am always on the point of forgiving… but I never forgive.  I am far too just.’ 

The only remedy [continues Yancey], Thielicke concluded, was his realization that God had forgiven his sins and given him another chance—the lesson of the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Breaking the cycle of ungrace means taking the initiative.   Instead of waiting for his neighbor to make the first move, Thielicke must do so, defying the law of retribution and fairness.  He did this only when he realized that God’s initiative lay at the heart of the gospel he had been preaching but not practicing.

…Like Helmut Thielicke, all too often I drift back into a tit-for-tat struggle that slams the door on forgiveness.  Why should I make the first move?  I was the one wronged.  So I make no move, and cracks in the relationship appear, then widen.  In time a chasm yawns open that seems impossible to cross.  I feel sad, but seldom do I accept the blame.  Instead, I justify myself and point out the small gestures I made toward reconciliation.  I keep a mental accounting of those attempts so as to defend myself if I am ever blamed for the rift.  I flee from the risk of grace to the security of ungrace (page 91).  

I’m certain there are those of us who can relate to creating a scale of sorts in which the sins an individual commits against us “better not” outweigh ours against them.  It’s almost as if to say, “Until you can prove I am guilty of the same offense you’ve committed against me, I’m not forgiving you.” But Jesus never taught degrees of sin.  He never put a clause in some forgiveness contract that gave anyone a right to refuse another forgiveness due to some implied superiority.   Trading forgiveness with one another so long as both parties involved feel like they aren’t being taken advantage of isn’t forgiveness—it’s a recipe for relationship ruin. 

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:16-18, ESV). 

Paul’s admonition here doesn’t have the ring of a “forgiveness deal”.  Think about it, the kind of  forgiveness God heaps on us is not anything less than scandalous.  I mean, when was the last time a forgiveness deal you struck didn’t fail?  And if it hasn’t yet, trust me on this one, it will. 

There are no successful forgiveness deals.  There is only forgiven granted.