Equally true is that when we refuse to absolve because we find the sin too egregious or the wrong beyond redemption or we find the repentance shallow, the sin becomes the norm for the sinner. Redemption that is limited to only those sins on the approved list of forgivable wrongs is no redemption at all. That is why the only unforgivable sin Scripture allows is the very rejection of faith, the sin against the Holy Spirit, final impenitence—dying in a state of unrepentance. This is clearly the understanding of the early Church (in particular Augustine). The unpardonable sin is unpardonable because the very nature of the sin is such that the person who commits it persistently rejects and blasphemes the saving operation of the Holy Ghost through the Means of Grace whereby he could otherwise be brought to true repentance and faith. Thus the sinner who refuses grace keeps forgiveness from himself forever.
What draws the sinner to God is not simply guilt but guilt that believes that there is forgiveness there for the sin and the sinner. On Ash Wednesday we hear the solemn warning that sins are not without consequences but at the very same time we are bidden to come back to the Lord because He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. The sins we come confessing are not new sins we have not previously tried (not many of them, at least). Most of them are the same tired old sins we confess to the Lord over and over again. It would be reasonable and thoroughly just of God to draw a line in the sand and say "no more." No more will He forgive these sins that we have so frequently confessed and just as often promised not to do again. But the miracle of His grace is that He does not turn us away. His grace and mercy are without equal.
So when we ask Him how often we must forgive our brother who sins against us, He does not give us a different standard than the one He uses with us. As often as he sins and begs forgiveness. It is shockingly generous and seems foolishness to ears so quick to judge, to enlarge the sins of others, to minimize our own sins, to forgive only the worthy, to absolve only those we deem genuinely repentant... What bids us come to Ash Wednesday is not the fear of failing to acknowledge our sinfulness but the remarkable promise of grace for the sinner who comes confessing the same tired old sins -- over and over again. . .
Yes, we too easily give up on the hard task of fending off temptation. Yes, we too quickly grow tired of the discipline of saying "no" to the very things our sinful hearts ache to say "yes" to. Yes, we have great intentions and poor follow through. There is every reason to say no more, not now, already too much has been forgiven without evidence of much change of heart and life... But God does not turn us away as He should. He not only welcomes us but bids us come. Return to the Lord. We gladly wear the ashes for they are marked in the sign of the cross, the cross which has the power to give forgiveness and life even to ashes and dirt.
Somewhere I read a great line about the dirt that Jesus spat on to apply to the eyes of the blind man. We are that dirt. We come in need of His spit. It sounds positively awful doesn't it. Choose then what you prefer. A sanitized blindness and death that ignores the consequences or dirt with His spit that opens eyes and bestows life? We sinners cannot be choosy. There is salvation in one place only -- in Christ alone. Confession and forgiveness are not neat and tidy. They are messy and dirty. But even in dirt grace triumphs. Even in ashes, there is life and hope. Thanks be to God!