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What Does It Mean to Forgive and Forget?
Learning to biblically forgive involves learning to respond correctly to God when people offend us.
The Forgiveness Series Article 13 of 71
Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to forgive and forget. In fact, painful memories can be motivations to praise God. Memories of getting through trials victoriously provide us with a reservoir of praise and thanksgiving. We recognize how God used those trials to make us more like Jesus. Learning to biblically forgive involves learning to respond correctly to God when people offend us. Our goal in learning to forgive, therefore, is not to forget but to remember in the right way.
In our quest to define biblical forgiveness, we find a fourth pervasive deception that many Christians have embraced. They believe that to forgive is to forget. I have encountered this definition countless times. I have heard it on Christian radio. I have read it in magazine articles. There is even a book entitled Forgive and Forget. The basic premise of the Forgive and Forget supposition is that, if offended parties truly forgive an offender, they will eventually arrive at a point where they no longer have any conscious recollection of the offense. The offense will fade from memory.
Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to forgive and forget.
While this sounds very pious, the truth of the matter is that nowhere in the Bible does God command us to forgive and forget. We do not usually have the ability to forget. We may, of course, forget small, inconsequential things, but we do not easily forget the big things. Forgiveness does, however, involve learning how to remember in the right way.
My wife and I experienced intense conflict in the early years of our marriage. Although they took place twenty years ago, I still remember some of those angry encounters as if they happened yesterday. Our arguments usually followed a predictable path. I would selfishly clam up and use the silent treatment to punish her for her angry outbursts. We quickly reached an impasse in communication with one another. My immaturity and her harshness brought us to the point of divorce.
Painful memories can become motivations to praise God.
In His mercy, God led us to a Christian counselor who taught us how to implement the steps of biblical forgiveness in our marriage. My wife and I can attest to the fact that the memories of those days are no longer negative.
The memories provide us instead with a reservoir of praise and thanksgiving that we offer to God every time we think of those early years. We recognize how He used the trials of those difficult years to change us and to make us more like Jesus Christ.
Principles of Biblical Forgiveness
Learning to biblically forgive involves learning to respond correctly to God when people offend us. Our goal in learning to forgive, therefore, is not to forget but to remember in the right way. I often share this list of forgiveness principles with counselees who have been offended by someone:
1. We should have a positive attitude toward the offenses, rather than a negative attitude toward the offender. James 1:2-4, 12
2. We must seek to view the offender as an instrument of God in our lives. Genesis 45:5
3. We should recognize that maintaining hurt feelings is a form of vengeance (getting back), which we have no right to exercise. Romans 12:17-20
4. We need to understand that the offender has already begun to receive the consequences of his offenses. 2 Thessalonians 1:6
5. We must acknowledge the eternal consequences of maintaining an unforgiving response. Matthew 18:34,35
6. We should realize that when we withhold forgiveness from someone we run the risk of becoming just like him, in attitudes if not in actions. When we forgive an offender, we avoid becoming like the person that we formerly resented. Romans 2:1-3
7. We must learn to welcome problems, trials, hardships and difficulties as a normal part of the Christian life. This happens when we begin to discern the benefits, insights and ministry opportunities that grow out of our suffering. 1 Peter 4:12,13