How many times have we heard this phrase? How many times have we heard that the best thing to do in a relational conflict is to forgive and forget? What I find VERY interesting is that often this is said within the context of the Gospel. Many people believe that the Bible tells us to forgive people for how they have hurt us and act like it never happened (forget) because it reflects how God forgives us and it also contains God’s statement, “…I will remember their sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25). What if I told you that this is a misunderstanding of what the Bible says…
This may well be an area where many of you disagree with me. That’s okay. Just bear with me as I present my case.
Lie #5: “When someone hurts us, then we must forgive and forget.”
I was speaking in a Bible study once and I was talking about God’s omniscience (this means He knows everything). I made a statement along the lines that there is no piece of knowledge or information that He does not possess. At the end of the study, an older gentleman approached me and told me I was wrong about something. I said, “Do tell.” He said that the Bible says that God will not remember our sin anymore. We talked about that for just a moment but I had not rebuttal. I just said, “That is interesting,” and then I decided to dig into that statement a bit more to figure out what it means. If God knows everything, how can He forget something?
Before I answer this question, let’s consider why this is something we need to really consider. We base our entire ideology of “forgive and forget” on this being true. If God forgives, then we should forgive. If God forgets, then we should forget. However, let’s be very honest with why this is problematic. How many times have you been hurt by someone and been able to forget it? Then, when we are processing through it, we find that we are still holding on to that memory…and we feel guilty…because we have a culture that says we are supposed to forget. Then we get accused of being unforgiving…because if we have forgiven, then we should also have forgotten. During all of this, we become confused even within our own hearts…thinking that there is something wrong with us and that we are not in right standing with God because the Bible tells us that if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven.
So…what is the real truth of all of this? Do you find yourself at a place of not being able to go forward in a relationship with someone because of past harm they’ve done you? Perhaps they’ve even sincerely apologized…yet you can’t seem to get past the roadblock of the memory. In your heart you harbor no anger…no bitterness…no resentment…yet you still cannot be close to them like you once were. Does this mean you’re a bad person or a false Christian or something of the sort?
It means you and I have been sold a false bill of goods. We’ve been made to believe something that just isn’t true. I think perhaps the reason for this “lie,” is a cursory reading…or one might say “lazy reading” of the biblical texts related to it.
When God told Israel that He would forget their sin, it was quite a bit different than what we think of when we say, “forget.” Think about a judge and a jury. A piece of evidence is presented to which one side objects. Then the judge thinks about the objection and sustains it. This means he agrees with the objection. He then looks at the jury and tells them that they are not to bring that piece of evidence into consideration while formulating their verdict. It may be true information, but for whatever reason, it is not allowed to be part of the discussion. That is the way God looks at our sin. If we have placed our guilt upon Christ by pursuing Him as Savior and Lord, then all of the things that we do wrong are not allowed to be brought in as evidence against us. God never forgets what we’ve done. He simply does not use it to convict us. There may be other consequences related to our rebellion. If we never face consequences for our wrongs, we will never learn from them. If we’ve hurt someone, then we should expect for them to react in some way as opposed just acting like it never happened. Sin hurts people…it wounds…and it may leave scars.
How does this apply to us? The same way. We are to forgive people. Whether they deserve it or not, we really need to forgive. This doesn’t mean that we act as if nothing ever happened. It means that we loose ourselves from being enslaved to the negativity of that pain. We forgive as much for ourselves as we do for others. Forgiveness is also more of a journey than a momentary decision. We have to keep forgiving until we really accept within ourselves that we’ve done so.
Now…forgetting…that’s different. Every person deals with this differently. When a spouse is guilty of adultery, there are many occasions when the offended party is able to forgive and move on…but they always remember…and if they don’t properly deal with what they remember…it will fester and destroy. Sometimes, there is forgiveness, but the pain was just too great to allow for a trusting relationship again…and the relationship is dissolved. This is tragic, but it does not mean that the offended person is wrong. It means that they were hurt to a degree that has altered the possible future between them and the other person. When speaking about them, they won’t necessarily be angry or severe. They will be accepting of the death of a relationship.
We should always work to find forgiveness within ourselves. If someone is incapable of forgiveness, then it may be reflective of an unforgiven heart within themselves…perhaps they have business with God they need to deal with and seek His forgiveness.
Perhaps you just can’t act as if nothing happened. That’s because you’re not supposed to. To do that would be dishonest. Instead, we have to approach all of these situations honestly and patiently, and instead of going for the fast-food answer…we dig in and prepare for a long journey. If we would do things this way, we would be amazed to see how many relationships would be salvaged or remade. That is the beauty of the way God works in us. We are created with too much depth to respond in a shallow way.
Up next: “We will all face judgment.”