The Art of Remembering (part 4): Forgive Without Forgetting

Forgiveness

This is the 4th part of a series I began sometime ago called The Art of Remembering.  Previous parts can be found by clicking on the links below:

To remember means more than to recall to mind.  It means to recall and to act on that memory.  This kind of remembering is a wonderful tool for rekindling a relationship with God.  Jesus told the church at Ephesus:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen.

— Revelation 2:5

The same principle applies to rekindling any other relationship.  This remembering is based on how God remembers us.  He does not just recall us to his memory.  He acts on our behalf based on what he remembers — namely that we are his.

So what does this have to do with forgiveness?

Again, we find the basis for the connection between forgiveness and remembering with God.

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

–Isaiah 43:25

The Bible teaches that God blots out (forgives) our sin and he does not remember them.  This has mistakenly been understood to mean that when God forgives our sin, that he forgets our sin.  Do away with the phrase “forgive and forget.”  Several problems exist with this understanding.

First, the text does not indicate that he forgets.  Instead he doesn’t remember our sins.  Keep in mind the definition of remembering.  With that definition we can understand the text to mean that when God forgives our sin, he chooses not to act towards us on the basis of what he knows about our sin.

Second, if we say that God forgets, then we are violating one of the key attributes of who God is.  Namely, that he is omniscient or all-knowing.  If God knows all, then surely he knows that we are sinners.  He has not forgotten that.  He simply chooses not to treat us as sinners.  This is forgiveness.

Third, if we say that God forgets, then he is usually the only one who does.  If I sin so that I offend somebody deeply, I will usually not forget the hurt that my actions brought to the other person.  The person offended usually does not forget that they were hurt.

I have heard it said that if you can still remember that somebody sinned against you then you have not forgiven them.  But only the most simple of people can totally erase from memory a deep offense.

I propose instead that we should follow God’s lead and forgive those who have offended us even though we will not forget the offense.  This is genuine forgiveness.  To know that you have been hurt and treat the offender as though they did not hurt you is a wonderful thing indeed.

Are there people who have hurt you deeply?  It is time to forgive them.  Treat them as if they have never hurt you.  This is how God treats us.  In fact, not only should we remember their sins no more, but we should remember them.  That is, we should act on their behalf.  This is the full cycle of forgiveness.  Genuine forgiveness is complete when the offended serves the sinner with grace and love.

Read of God’s example:

Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

— Psalm 25:7

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