Forgive and Forget?

There are a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness.  These misconceptions make people hesitant to forgive. That’s a big problem. In this blog we’ll clear up the misconception that forgiving means forgetting. “Forgive and forget.” You’ve heard that one before. But it’s just not true.

Here’s why people think forgiveness of the past entails forgetting the past.

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers them no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

So there’s good reason to think forgiving entails forgetting. That’s what God’s word says. That’s what God Himself does. And we are to forgive just like God. We are to forgive and forget just like God. Case closed.

There’s only one problem. The prophet Isaiah keeps speaking. Listen to what he says in the verses immediately following.

“Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence.  Your first father sinned; your spokesmen rebelled against me. So I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple, and I will consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn.”  Isaiah 43:26-28

Apparently God is remembering the sins he just said he forgot. So either God is blatantly contradicting himself through the prophet Isaiah within a few verses, or we may be mistaken about what “remember them no more” means.

I’m adopting the latter.  God remembers. Throughout the Old Testament prophets, God reminds his people over and over again of their history: their history of disobedience and God’s history of faithfulness. God remembers.

God does not have amnesia. He does not have blank spots in his knowledge. God knows everything.  Past. Present. Future. If God truly forgot things, even on purpose, God would cease to be omniscient. But God remembers.

However, God does not accuse. God does not hold their past against them. He keeps no record of wrongs to throw in their faces. God forgives. God reminds. God pleads: “My people, return to me.”

Likewise, we are not to have amnesia. We are not to have blank spots about our past. God might be able to do that. But he doesn’t. And we can’t. It’s psychologically impossible.

For example: My Dad divorced my mom years ago. Later, he re-married. I forgave my Dad, but I haven’t forgotten. When I go visit him, I’m not surprised by the fact he’s not with my mom. When I go visit him, I’m not surprised he’s with his second wife. When I go visit him, I don’t ask his second wife, “Who might you be?”  I know. I remember.

Forgive and Forget?  That’s not what God does. That’s not what we are to. Forgiveness does not entail wiping our memories. Forgiveness means our memories don’t hurt us anymore. We have released the hurt. We have forgiven.

You don’t need to lose your memory to forgive. You don’t need to wipe your history to forgive. You don’t need to forget to forgive. So forgive.  



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