To Forgive is Divine

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In the book of Genesis, we find that we were created in the image of God. Part of what this means is that God has given us some of the same nature that He has — God expects us to imitate Him. There is a common statement that I have heard: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” The truth is that God gave us the wonderful ability to forgive just like He has and God expects us to forgive just like he does.

God’s Example In the Old Testament

Jonah sent to Nineveh

God sent Jonah to Nineveh because God wanted the people to repent so He would not have to destroy them. Jonah was not very pleased with God’s character in this case.

He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2, NASB)

I wonder how happy Jonah would be, knowing that God was not slow to anger with him? If Jonah had really thought about it, wouldn’t he be happy that God is the way He is with everyone?

The Israelites

It is amazing to me that God was as patient with the Israelites as He was. They just kept on turning away from Him and doing some of the most horrible things one can imagine. But we find that God was a forgiving God who really wanted them to repent so that He would not have to punish them.

‘Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds.’

(Jeremiah 26:3, NASB)

God did have to punish them, but He was very willing to forgive if they would just repent.

God’s Example In the New Testament

God sent Jesus

Perhaps the best example of God’s forgiving nature is His plan to forgive us through the death of His own son.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NASB)

Are we so willing to forgive that we would die for someone or have one of our children die for someone in the hope that they would repent and we could forgive them? When God demands us to be forgiving, He is not asking anything that He is not willing to do Himself.

We can forgive

In that saying that is so common, “To err is human but to forgive is divine,” we acknowledge that God is forgiving. But we are only human, after all. How can we be expected to be like that? Do not forget that God created us in His image — He gave us the capability to forgive. Let us see some examples of humans that were forgiving like God.

Jesus was a man (Hebrews 2)

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NASB)

Jesus is the perfect example of everything good. He was a human just like you but He was willing to die so that He could forgive you if you repented from your sins against Him. On the cross, Jesus prayed that his killers would be forgiven. Many of them were, as we see in Acts 2.

Stephen was a man

Stephen was an impressive man. He was the first one recorded in scriptures to be killed for his faith in Christ. He was busy telling the men trying him that they were stubborn and refusing to listen to God, but this was not out of hate. He was trying to get them to repent. Whey they were killing him, Stephen was not angry with them.

They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60, NASB)

We cannot look at these examples and claim that as humans we cannot forgive like God expects us. God has commanded us to forgive (Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 6:9-15) and it must be a forgiveness that comes from the heart. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven (Matthew 18:23-35). It doesn’t matter how many times (even in one day) that the person sins against us, we must forgive whenever they ask us to.

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22, NASB)
And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. (Luke 17:4, NASB)

This is an imitation of God. Don’t you enjoy confidence in knowing that if you sin against God seven times a day and truly repent, He will forgive you? Other people should have that confidence in us too.

Our forgiveness cannot just be in word, but from the heart or it will not help us. God does not just say that it’s ok but hold a grudge — He forgives us completely and that is what we must imitate. We can do it because God created us in His image. We can and we must if God is going to forgive us.