Christ emphasizes so insistently the need to forgive others that when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive his neighbor He answered with the symbolic number of “seventy times seven,”(Mt. 18:22) meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Properly understood, justice constitutes, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness.
When looking at forgiveness from the outside as a third party, it can be easy to pass judgment. But we don’t know the facts, and certainly not the inner experiences of the offender and the one who forgives. Forgiveness is not a carte blanche, but the result of a relationship in repair. Let’s not forget the parable of Luke 15:11ff. The son had already made a firm decision to reform, and began his well-rehearsed speech to his waiting father. We cannot make perfect amends–it is beyond our power and God knows it.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana