I suppose for some folks it’s just not obvious enough.
We are all born in sin. If you try to reason about culpability, you’ll never understand. Rather, you start from the understanding that your human nature is broken — for whatever reason. You have to seek the Creator’s revelation about how to handle that problem. Within our fallen nature, it is just about possible (on some level) to study His revelation and grasp sufficient insight into His character woven into Creation that you can live optimally. You’ll get as much as this life has to offer. Somewhere in there is provision for mercy and forgiveness sufficient to keep a grip on this optimal existence.
The revelation is cloaked in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) feudal sheikdom. The whole point is to make the shiekh happy with you and find your place in His domain. Nobody says you can’t get pissed off at times when things don’t seem to work as promised; genuine royalty makes allowances for human nature. You’ll get over it and beg forgiveness and He’ll keep an eye on whether you actually got over it, but once a workable relationship is established, everything can be progressively better as you go through life in His dominion.
Our God is nothing like the Western image of royalty, particularly the grouchy absolutist Germanic tribal warlords. He is nothing like the Nordic or Celtic deities with a perpetual bad temper, always on a hair trigger to smash the crap out of you for daring to intrude on his royal privileges. Our God is rather calm, quiet and contemplative, seldom in a hurry about much of anything. All the more so when you consider that His time sense is nothing like ours, despite a full awareness of what ours is like.
This is not a business of bookkeeping and accounting in the Western style. It’s bookkeeping in the ANE style, where debts can be wiped for the most whimsical reasons, and debts can be declared without any particular reason you understand. If that sounds capricious, you need to divest yourself of your mythology that God can be held accountable to some standard of fairness and logic that is utterly foreign to His revelation.
It does follow a pattern, but that pattern is His personality as He reveals it to you individually. It won’t be exactly the same for any two of us. You should learn to forgive as He forgives, while recognizing we have limits. We have a human level with flesh and brains and emotions, but we also have a heart that operates in the moral sphere. The heart is your personal ultimate authority on things, and your brain has to learn how to obey the moral imperatives that the heart can see. Start with the idea of convictions, an internal mechanism that can overrule logic when you pay attention to it.
All humanity is under the Covenant of Noah for our moral apprehension of things, and it must result in something that resembles an abstract grasp of that covenant. If you want to claim the Covenant of Christ, it still includes relying on Noah as an example of how things should look. We further examine Moses as a very precise implementation of Noah in the context of a certain people, in a certain context, and now no longer in force. It’s just a good explanation of how things can work and Jesus obeyed it by virtue of a superior understanding of what it was supposed to accomplish. Either way, if I write in terms of obeying Noah, you get the picture of something ancient, fundamental, and something that presumes your heart rules over your head. It also presumes your personal progress in drawing closer to the Sheikh of Heaven, more determined to glorify Him.
When you work with another person, you have to hold in your heart and discernment of how God wants you to deal with them. It’s not judging their standing with God, but their place in your individual domain granted by God — feudalism, remember? Their place is always subject to change and your heart will tell you. The issue of sin, repentance and forgiveness has everything to do with that context. You expect yourself to fail, so you surely expect your fellow humans to fail. You presume a certain interplay with God that you’ll never quite grasp, so that’s not what we are talking about. We are talking about their presence in your domain of calling.
Do you sense they are a fellow believer? Does that affect the balance of power in overlapping dominions between the two of you? Work that out in your mind and review it often. Some folks make a mistake, and despite how much it seems to hurt you, the only moral answer is simply excluding them in the future. You forgive in the sense that you don’t try to extract some kind of peace-making. Shake it off and move on. Should they try to return, let them know as much as you can what the situation is. Keep the door closed until they offer some means of restoration. Other folks fail and you really find yourself required to work it out, because you have no permission from your heart to close any doors. Whether you hold the position of relative authority is another matter for assessment, because it’s often contextual.
You also have to assess how much opportunity you restore to them in your ministry. It’s not rule bound, and if you try to operate that way, you sin. How did Jesus deal with the adulteress in John 8:2-11? She threatened social stability in her extended family household, in her covenant community. Jesus surely knew a lot more about the exact details than we do from this distance. His response in that context shows at least one possibility that is acceptable under the Law of Moses, because He never broke the Law. What? You thought it was all legalistic and unforgiving? No. Whomever exercised the place of shepherd at that moment could decide for a lesser penalty if it was in the interest of community stability.
Hint: The community had no standing to complain because there was precious little divine justice to preserve. They were not lawful, so had no standing to accuse her, since their moral adulteries (idolatry of human reason) were worse than hers. No one had standing to execute the penalty except Jesus, and He decided she had suffered enough. It’s not a question of her sin, but of divine justice in terms of social stability. Was she penitent? Jesus seemed to think so.
Yeah, I know all you smart-alecks who ask where the man was who lay with her. That misses the point, except that their failure to bring him with her was all the proof we need it was an unjust case. But we could have figured that out just because we know they had Jesus crucified.
There are no rules. Context is everything, and your heart already knows the answer. That’s how you do forgiveness.