Why does God forgive us? He can forgive us because of the sacrifice of Jesus. But he chooses to forgive us because he is love and because he loves us.
Why should we forgive others? We can forgive others because of the sacrifice of Jesus. And we should choose to forgive because to be God’s child is to reflect his loving image. If we don’t forgive others their sins, then God will not forgive ours because this proves we have not become his children through grace (Matthew 6:14).
But perhaps there is more. God forgives for his own pleasure, to show his greatness, and to bring glory to himself (Jeremiah 33:8-9). Yes he forgives us because he loves us, but he also forgives people because he loves himself and seeks to bring praise to himself. Since he is God, he is the only one who can put himself first and it not be sinful. He seeks his own glory because he is God. We are not God, so we must not simply forgive for our own sake or for our own praise. We must forgive for God’s sake, for his name sake, as he forgives for his sake.
To forgive like God, we must learn to forgive for God’s glory. Everything he does, he does for his name’s sake. When we take this higher motive, it frees us to do higher acts of love. To forgive others for your own sake is not a strong enough motive. To be willing to free people of the debts they owe you, to release them from the punishment they really deserve and you rightly can take, you must have a greater reason to choose love. God is that reason.
When we link our pleasure with his praise, do we not experience our greatest pleasure in the process? And is not God glorified through our joy in him? So then, if I forgive others to please God and to find joy in God all for the glory of God, in a way I should seek to forgive others for my own sake as well, for my freedom found in forgiving others not only benefits me but pleases him. For if God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, should we not seek to be free from the weight of unforgiveness to be satisfied in him for our good and his glory?
Holding on to the hurts done to us is like sinking in the sea because we are holding onto a milestone that is not tied around our necks. It is the suicide of the soul and pure toxin to any form of true satisfaction. Choosing not to forgive may hurt the one we resent but it will always destroy us most completely in the process.
In Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven a great debt and yet refused to forgive a much smaller debt owed him, it says, “In anger the master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed” (Matthew 18:34). In his quest to harm the one who owed him little, he ended up offending the one who had given him the most. He threw into prison the one who owed him, but in the process he threw himself into a prison and was “tortured,” which was an even worse penalty than what he sought from his debtor. Surely the weight of unforgiveness crushes the beholder most.
I wonder if the unforgiving person is not his own jailer. Perhaps the unmerciful servant became his own slave master. Perhaps the punishment of unforgiveness is to be an unforgiving person. Perhaps God gives them over to the sinful resentment in their hearts as the true punishment itself (Psalm 81:12, Romans 1:24). Perhaps this scorning of God’s offer of redemption in our most meaningful relationships is the punishment itself for this grievous sin.
Forgiveness will always be needed for there to be any true happiness. If we refuse to forgive those who hurt us, even if they are not asking for it, the person we are truly torturing is mostly ourselves.