Is Forgiving and Forgetting the Same Thing?
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Some people wrongly believe that forgiveness is synonymous with forgetting. We say, “Forgive and forget.” And we think, “If I forgive somebody, then I have to forget what they have done to me.”
Now, the good news is when God forgives us, He does forget. The Bible says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). And God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 NASB). That doesn’t mean when God forgives, He contracts a case of divine senility. God is saying that He no longer holds our sin against us when He forgives us.
But when we tell people that in order to forgive someone they have to forget the offense, we are asking them to do something that is impossible. You see, forgiveness is a spiritual action, but forgetting is a biological action. We do people a disservice when we say, “Unless you forget, you truly haven’t forgiven.”
Forgiveness and forgetting are not the same thing. In fact, trying to forget what people have done to you can short-circuit the forgiveness process. People say, “I am not going to think about what that person did to me. I will just pretend it never happened.” That is not forgiveness. In fact, you can do yourself great harm by doing that. You have to go through the right steps in order to properly forgive somebody.
Forgiveness and forgetfulness are not the same thing. You may never forget the effect of someone’s injury against you. Remembering may even serve as an alert against being injured again in the same way. Christian theologian Lewis Smedes wrote, “If you forget, you will not forgive at all.” In fact, one forgives most completely when one has first fully acknowledged the depth and extent of the offense. That can be a long, reflective process that may or may not include the offender’s admission of wrong.
Too many Christians try to hurry the process along. They move so quickly to forgetting that they may actually be in denial rather than practicing true forgiveness. However, remembering does not mean you should continue to let the offense have power over you. As Smedes notes, “We have the power to forgive what we still do remember.” That power is available through Jesus Christ. The much-quoted passage, Ephesians 4:32, says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” We can do that most profoundly when we reflect on how God forgives our sins constantly. That inspires humility. The freedom forgiveness brings to the spirit is palpable. While we may always remember the hurt, we pray toward the time when we can forgive with no weight or pressure, but with a letting go.
The Bait Stick Series: “Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve.”