Because God is holy and good, we might imagine that it must be hard for God to forgive our faults. Since we are sinful and have made many mistakes, being merciful toward others for their misdeeds should be easy. According to scripture and experience, neither is true.
God is surprisingly forgiving. He is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), like the father of the prodigal son who eagerly receives him back without a hint of resentment (Luke 15:11-32), and the king who generously dismisses the massive debt of his servant though forgiveness was not even being requested (Matt. 18:23-27). Forgiveness appears to come easily to God. He seems eager to forgive us! On the other hand, we have trouble forgiving others for the same mistakes we ourselves make and for which we desire forgiveness.
Our lack of forgiveness, which makes no sense given our own failures, comes from our emotional captivity to offenses and wounds. We struggle to forgive because of the hurt, disappointment, or affront that we experience when others act or say certain things. Even though we are guilty of the same things, that is not reason enough for us to be able to forgive. The injured self is hurting too much.
How does God forgive so easily? One might assume that God forgives freely because God is unable to be hurt by our misdeeds. Such a stoic and emotionless God could not experience our woundedness, and perhaps would not find it hard to forgive. However, that notion is contradicted by the revelation that we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Somehow, God feels deeply the hurt of our misdeeds, but joyfully forgives!
More likely, God’s selfless love does not leave room for God to dwell on how God’s self has been mistreated and injured. The love of God keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5), though God has been wronged many times over. Perhaps, we can think of God being too busy loving us selflessly to focus on how awful we have been to him and nurse a grudge!
If this is the case, then God’s forgiveness shows us how to address our own struggle to forgive. We must seek, by grace, to cultivate a generous and selfless love, which will express itself in mercy and forgiveness. Our forgiveness will increase as we grow in godly love.
Many times I’ve heard people say, “I need to forgive if I want to be forgiven.” I know the Bible verses they are thinking of, though I doubt the relationship, concerning forgiving and being forgiven, is strict dependence of God’s on ours. Instead, should not our forgiveness be like God’s? Is God forgiving so He can be forgiven? Did Jesus forgive from the cross to make sure he would be forgiven by his Father? Surely not!
Fear-motivated forgiveness is neither an imitation of Christ nor likely to take us far. Forgiveness needs to flow from a heart that is loving, generous, merciful, and compassionate because it has been shaped by the Spirit. Unforgiveness enslaves us to sin, to continuing in its hurtful effects, and inflicting others and ourselves with it again.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17), and freedom begets freedom (Matt. 10:8). One aspect of that freedom is being able to release in forgiveness all harm and offense done against us. God is free to forgive, but we are often bound by our injuries, and must come into the freedom of the Spirit to let go of wrongs done to us. This healing of the Spirit of God we must seek earnestly through prayer.