Has someone ever told you that you need to just “forgive and forget”? Unknowingly, people often offer this advice without thinking about how difficult it actually is to follow, given the improbability of being able to forget deep wounds from others. If we withhold forgiveness, waiting on forgetfulness to occur, we allow bitterness and anger to ferment. Or if, instead of withholding forgiveness, we try to act as if it never happened, we allow it to fester under the surface, causing untold damage.
Are you waiting to forgive until you can forget what your offender has done? Conventional wisdom might say this plan will work. But the gospel turns conventional wisdom upside down. Because of the gospel, forgiveness is never contingent on forgetting.
God is absolutely just, which means He cannot overlook injustice and pretend it did not happen. He cannot simply forget in order to forgive humanity. And not only is God absolutely just, He is absolutely loving, which means He desires for humanity to be reconciled to Himself. On the surface these two traits seem like they contradict one another: How could justice and love coexist in their fullest degree simultaneously?
Yet this is exactly how God has revealed Himself in Scripture. Exodus 34:6-9 declares that God is simultaneously loving and just. At the cross, this tension finds resolution as Christ bears the just wrath of God the Father and makes a way for Him to be reconciled to His children.
At infinite cost to Himself, God the Father sends His Son to earth to become man, to live the perfect life of righteousness and to die the death we deserve for our sin. This is a picture of forgiveness marked by mercy and grace.
Since God is all-knowing, He does not have the ability to forget like people do. Forgiveness is not God's forgetting what has occurred, but rather God’s loving despite what He remembers and knows all too well. When the Bible says that God will remember sin no more, it does not mean God forgets our sin. It means that God no longer counts that sin against us because it has been accounted to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
God has modeled perfect forgiveness for us. Despite the magnitude of our offense against Him, God does not forget in order to forgive. He forgives in spite of our sin.
If we are ever to learn to truly forgive we must learn it from God. This means we must be forgiven first by accepting the forgiveness extended to us in Christ. As forgiven children, we are not required to forget the wrongs against us. Believers can forgive in the midst of pain because we have been forgiven much. We are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness and the slavery of bitterness in order to extend the life-giving freedom of compassion. We remember the grace shown to us and extend that same grace to others.
Practically, this may take time, and that is okay. We are often wronged in deeply painful ways. So be true and real. When you are hurting, hurt. But in the hurt and suffering, seek to understand that there is coming a day when all suffering will be removed, and you will be made whole. You have refuge in the only truly innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ, who is understanding and sympathetic to your pain.
So forgive, not to the degree to which you forget, but to the degree to which you realize you have been forgiven much. As one made in the image of Christ, extend the same kind of forgiveness you have received.