Thursday, November 1, 2012

Does forgiveness leave room for forgetting AND remembering?

“‘I was wrong. I’m sorry. Now let’s get on with business. It’s your job to forgive me. It’s time for us both to put this behind us.’ With a few well-chosen words, the tables are turned. Like a wrestler doing an escape and reverse, an offender gains the upper hand. His victims are now expected to forgive and forget.

“He might even remind them that according to Jesus, if we don’t forgive others, our Father in heaven won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15).”

“Now that I’ve admitted my wrong, now that God has forgiven me, and now that the Bible requires you to forgive me, why can’t we act like this never happened?”

Thus writes Martin De Haan in his article, Forgiveness.* 

He continues, “We’ve been told that when God forgives, He forgets, and that if we really forgive, we’ll forget too.”

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of such words, you know the ripping, searing feeling in your heart because something about this doesn’t seem quite right!

So, let’s look at what the Bible says about God’s forgiveness:

“God not only puts our sins out of sight
[Isaiah 38:17];
he also puts them out of reach
(Micah7:19, Psalm 103:12),
out of mind
(Jeremiah 31:34)
and out of existence
(Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Psalm 51:1, 9; Acts 3:19).”
(NIV Study Bible’s comment for Isaiah 38:17; emphasis mine)

So, God forgets.

God forgets?

God doesn’t forget anything,” states De Haan. “From cover to cover, the Bible shows that God remembers the sins of His people.

Both Old and New Testaments are full of stories which preserve forever the memory of His people’s forgiven wrongs.”

Whoa. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the Bible and God jerk my emotions around.

So God forgets but He also remembers.

De Haan proposes that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. He observes that while we can easily forget some wrongs against us, others are “always near the edge of our awareness.”

“When God says He will not remember our sins,” De Haan says, “He means He won’t remember them against us.”

Read that again: “When God says He will not remember our sins, He means He won’t remember them against us.”

Pastor Sid said it this way Sunday: to forgive is to let go of holding someone guilty.

In the Hebrew, Jeremiah 31:34 means God will not mention, recount, bring to remembrance, or think about those of our sins He has forgiven.

Max Lucado has an earthier way of explaining it: When God says He will remember our sins no more, it means He will not rub our noses in them.

So what should we do when someone says to us, “The Bible requires you to forgive me, so why can’t we act like this never happened?”

Forgiveness may not involve complete restoration,” suggests De Haan.

“… Forgiveness doesn’t require a return to business as usual. There may be results that are irreversible.…”

De Haan is talking about natural, reasonable, and logical consequences.

Forgiveness may allow for consequences. A forgiver may still wisely and lovingly ask for reasonable restitution, legal due process, a plan to avoid recurrences, and time to heal. Wise follow-through is often necessary if we are going to forgive and love well.”

Forgiveness takes lots of time and it requires the offender’s genuine repentance.

“Repentance is more than
a change of mind
or feeling sorry for one’s sins.
It is a radical
and deliberate
turning or returning to God
that results in
and ethical
and action.”
(from NIV Study Bible footnote for Matthew 4:17; 
emphasis mine)

It is wise to develop a plan for healing.

(It is also wise to develop a plan for rebuilding trust. Forgiving is not the same as trusting again, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So what do you think? Does forgiveness leave room for forgetting AND remembering?

* “Forgiveness,” from Times of Discovery, Volume 60, Number 1


  1. Linda - I LOVE this post. Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation all the time. Forgiveness is for our benefit as well as the one who has harmed us. Forgiveness is not simple, it is not quick, it is not easy. And to gloss over it is just plain wrong. Thank you for these great reminders!!

    1. Hi, Diana. Thanks for leaving your words of wisdom. Forgiveness is something everyone must deal with, and it's a topic--an experience--memoir writers must really address. Writing our stories can bring healing, and sometimes that leads us to recognize our need to forgive, and how to go about it. Thanks for helping move all of us that direction, Diana.


  2. I too, love this post! So timely and so needed as we navigate this culture of sin. Yes, we are called to forgive. In fact, as forgiven people, it is a "debt we owe." But restoration and reconciliation take time and may never return the relationship to its prior cadence.
    Blessings to you and yours~

    1. Hi, Jess, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Memoirists, it seems, wrestle more with the realities of forgiveness than do others. Perhaps memoirists dig deeper than the average population--which is good! It's not easy, but well worth the effort to both figure out forgiveness, practice it, accept God's forgiveness for ourselves, and somehow write about it for those who will someday read our memoirs. I am convinced that others will be blessed if we take the time to write them out.

      Happy writing, Jess!


  3. Linda, I love this post! Forgiveness, including self-forgiveness,is so challenging and yet so freeing. I have experienced both through my writing but it still remains challenging. I appreciate your reminders that forgiveness can open up pathways of healing. Anything that worthwhile is well-worth the effort. Thank you for always sending me the message I most need to hear :-)
    Blessings and Hugs,