When Jesus tells us to forgive, one of the main reasons he gives is because this is what God is like. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord commands, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).
Real forgiveness honors God.
All people, all men and women, are created by God and made in the image of God. Every single person on this planet is a being of supreme value to God. That’s why in Genesis 9, God says anybody who takes the life of a human being is going to be held accountable. Even when an animal kills a human, God says he’s going to hold that animal accountable. Why? “For in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6). Every human life is sacred. Every human being has dignity.
Because all people bear the image of God, because all men and women are so valuable to God, we are not only forbidden to kill people, we are forbidden to curse people or talk bad about people. Any people. Scripture tells us we cannot “curse men and women who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). All human beings have this. Not just the “good” human beings — all human beings. Regardless of their track record, regardless of their character, God made them and God loves them. So we do, too.
Timothy Keller illustrates this by imagining a foreigner who visits Mount Vernon in Virginia. He doesn’t know anything about American history, he’s never been here before, and he’s surprised that Mount Vernon is a national monument. He might be confused. There are lots of old Virginia plantation houses that are bigger and fancier and more beautiful than Mount Vernon. Lots of those houses have more architectural merit than Mount Vernon. What makes Mount Vernon so worthy of all this honor and respect?
You’d say to this foreigner, this is George Washington’s house. George Washington is the father of this country. And that would explain it. You wouldn’t have to say anything else. The merits and quality of the house itself are irrelevant. Because we treasure the owner, we honor his house. Because it was so precious to him and we revere him, it’s precious to us and we take care of it. So we treasure every single human being on earth as a way of showing respect for their maker and owner.
Forgiveness also honors God because it’s an act of faith in God. By forgiving someone, I’m trusting that God is better at justice than I am. By forgiving, I give up my rights to seek fairness and to get even; I leave it all for God to work out. He will. I trust that he will. So I forgive.