“Who is a God like you, lifting iniquity and passing over rebellion
Toward the remnant of his possession?
He does not hold his anger forever,
For he is pleased to show mercy.
Let him return; let him greet us with love.
Let him subdue our iniquity,
You shall throw all our sins into the depths of the sea.
You shall give truth to Jacob
And mercy to Abraham
Which you swore to our fathers
From the days of old.”
So why is it that forgiveness is so important for the believer? First of all, it is modeled for us by God. God is perfect and holy; God is truth and truly beautiful. If we are to grow in grace, that means growing like God. And growing like God means learning to forgive as God forgives. From the very point that Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, there was a promise of redemption. Fallen man has never lived a day where that promise has not been before them. There was no probationary period before forgiveness was extended and no waiting in limbo until God decided what to do about sin. Forgiveness in Christ was offered to Adam and Eve at the fall, that all who would put their faith in him (or for Old Testament Saints—in the promise of the coming Christ) would be saved and be reunited with the Father and have eternal life with him. Thus, in light of all God has done, God expects us to work hard at forgiveness.
And forgiveness takes work. When I was growing up, my parents had a good sized vegetable garden, and as children, my sister and I were expected to help keep it weeded. The problem with weeding a garden is that weeds often have deep and firm roots, and if you don’t get the weed up, root and all, the weed will grow right back practically overnight. It is easy to pull up the top of a weed and make the garden look nice, but it is far harder to get the weed—root and all.
When you fail to forgive someone, the hurt and frustration that you hold onto are very much like the roots of those weeds. They may lie dormant for a time, but they will come back up all over again. I know that there have been times in my own life when I thought that I had removed the anger over a particular situation by the root, but years later, the anger over that situation arises anew and must be killed anew.
Friends, not only will refusing to forgive others destroy your soul in the next life, but it will destroy you in this life as well. Just as weeds sap the nutrients from the soil that good plants need as well as choking those plants out, so too does the anger you hold onto eat at your life and hamper the good works you seek to do before God. Friends, do not hold onto your anger; forgive others that you may be forgiven and forgive others that you may demonstrate the love and mercy of God to the world around you.