A conversation about mercy and forgiveness

Bob
Hey pastor i have a question... What's the different between forgiveness and grace?

David W. Pendergrass
They are related concepts and often could be synonyms in the Bible. Yet, there is typically a difference in understanding:

(1) forgiveness means something like, "not enacting punishment toward." So, when someone has done something wrong deserving punishment, "forgiveness" is not enacting punishment. The Hebrew way of saying that is metaphorical - it's like owing a great financial "debt" and not having to pay the debt any more.

(2) grace means something like, "an act or state of kindness." It can be an act of "grace" to be "forgiving."

I might say that grace is more broad, while forgiveness is more specific. Grace can refer to any act of kindness or charity, while forgiveness is focused on not punishing someone who deserves it.

Now, I have ALWAYS heard teachers/preachers make a (false) distinction between "grace" and "mercy," and I can find no distinction whatsoever in the Bible between these concepts.

Bob
So what does  god mean when he shared grace and god mercy? Also can grace and forgiveness be the same? Im curious because as a Christian i want to know the different and how i can apply it in my life.

David W. Pendergrass
In general, you could use the term "kindness/kind" for "grace/graceful." Think of the ways that you use the term "kind/ness" in life. So, it's an act of kindness/grace to give to the homeless. It's an act of kindness/grace to forgive people. Etc.

Now, forgiveness is specifically used when describing not enacting punishment.

Bob
Oh ok i see i see. To me it seem like forgiveness and mercy would be more a like right?

David W. Pendergrass
In my reading, mercy and grace are typically synonymous in the Bible (though preachers usually teach that they are different). Forgiveness is distinct from them both.

Bob
Ok. I got it.  is there ever a time when its not ok to forgive?

David W. Pendergrass
No. but I would say two things. First, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can not want someone to be punished but also keep your distance from them. Secondly, forgiveness might take quite some time to do.

Bob
How long can it take for a person to forgive you? And can you hate somebody and still forgive them?

David W. Pendergrass

On the first point, that is up to the person. If that person is a Christian, then s/he should be working on forgiving as much as possible. At the same time, a person might hold onto a wound that we have caused them for many many years, depending on the nature of the offense. This is where therapy is so important. However, forgiving someone just means not wanting to have them punished. It is possible to reach that conclusion--not wanting them to be punished--before all the wounds have been healed. 

On the second point, no. You cannot hate someone and forgive them at the same time. Having genuine hatred and disdain for a person means that you have not reached a place of "letting them go." Forgiveness means being very clear, open, and honest about the event/pattern that happened in all of its evil glory, and then getting to a place where it no longer has any power over you. You no longer care, emotionally, if that person gets "pay back." (Though at times, it's best not to be around that person any more, especially if that person will only hurt you again.)