Thursday, April 2, 2015

Forgiveness: 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 (from Times of Discovery, Volume 60, Number 1; emphasis mine).

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,
(Micah 7:19, 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 one Sunday morning: 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, 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?


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  2. Linda, this post is strong meat. One of the countless benefits I've derived from over fifteen years of studying and practicing various life writing modes is the ability to look at things from other points of view. Taking the perspective that in any given situation we all do the best we know under the circumstances. If what we do seems contrary to what we "ought" to know and do, that just means we don't fully understand.

    Realizing that someone didn't know or couldn't do better may not fully excuse them, but it does make it easier to forgive. Especially if we have evidence they DID learn from the situation. And truly, I've seldom been my own best self in messy situations.

    So, yes, I think forgiveness does leave room for forgetting, and also remembering, even being grateful for lessons learned.

  3. Good stuff, Sharon! Have you included such thoughts in one of your memoirs? If not, maybe you'll want to explore this topic in a future memoir. The topic can be painful for most if not all of us, but the process of writing through it can be healing for us, the writers, and can serve as a learning experience for our readers. I'm convinced that our stories can help others navigate through difficult situations that surface in every life.