“Forgive and forget” has become a common parlance. It is also often said that God forgives and forgets, that He forgives and remembers our sins no more (Isaiah43:25; Hebrews 8:12 ) – wipes them off the records in His memory. It is also common for people to say, “forget it” or ”try to forget it”.
What is really possible? Is it really possible to forgive? When the offender does not ask for forgiveness? When the offence is so grievous it is regarded as “too much”? Can one ever willfully forget offences against one – especially when the offence leaves a reminder in one form or another? Certainly, there is a general agreement that it is possible to forgive.
The word “Forgive” means “to excuse (a wrong or a wrongdoer); to pardon; to remit or cancel (a debt); to show or grant pardon”, according to the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. It is obvious that the readiness of one to excuse or pardon or grant pardon is a function of the gravity of the wrong done or/and the attitude of the wrongdoer, ordinarily speaking. Jesus, however requests the Christian not to be ordinary but to go tremendous extra miles (Cf Luke 6:27-35) and if this injunction is obeyed by the Christian no offence is unforgivable no matter the magnitude of the offence and the attitude of the offender.
There is no doubt we have enormous reasons to forgive and they are mostly for our own sake although the offender benefits from it: obedience to God is a very important reason and not to forgive is to disobey God. This kind of disobedience has dire consequences (Cf Mathew 18:21, 22, 34,35). Another important reason to forgive is for us to be able to get answer for our prayers (Cf Mark II. 24-25). We should also forgive, since we are sinners and needing forgiveness from God, so that God can forgive us (CF Mathew 6: 11-12, 14-15). Forgiving is very important for our own good health. When you do not forgive you notice how bitter and disorganized you feel anytime you remember the offence and the offender. We go through life in bitterness, resentment anger and pain in the heart; but the offender may not even know what you are going through, may not feel any remorse or may even feel contented, even happy, about what he has done to you; and you are there languishing in bitter passion because you cannot forgive! Certainly, your health suffers greatly even to irreversible damage.
Jesus’ command to forgive “seventy times seven” reflects God’s unlimited forgiveness for us. He, therefore, expects us to forgive others just as unconditionally. Withholding forgiveness benefits nobody. Holding unto our past hurts stands in the way of our relationship with Jesus and diminishes our experience of being God’s beloved children. By contrast, forgiveness brings freedom and release from the prison of resentment and pain.
Living happily and healthily depends on your readiness to forgive, and you condemn yourself to a pitiable life of bitterness and hate if you cannot forgive hurts and imperfections of others.
How can one forgive? Just do it: think it, believe it, say it- if necessary – and it is done. Pray God to enable you do it and He will. You will grow from height lo height in the art of forgiving and you will progressively experience freedom and happiness in the closeness to God you get, more and more.
But when forgiving has become possible will everything not be ruined by the inability of our minds to forget since we are beings with memory. Is it possible to forget?
The word “forget” means “to fail to keep in the memory; to overlook unintentionally, neglect; to leave behind unintentionally; to stop thinking about; to suffer lapse of memory; according to the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language. In the context of our discussion it is not possible for one to forget after forgiving, as an intention and in a process; because the definition shows that the act of forgetting is unintentional.
“Trying” to forget is tantamount to trying to remember. It is like one ”trying to sleep” which does not result in sleeping but rather keeps one awake until one relaxes from forcing sleep and sleep overtakes him at a time he does not know – never at the time he is “trying”. The process of forgetting is not an active process but a passive one; effort is not required in forgetting in the literal sense.
“Forgetting” is not easy to do even when it happens unintentionally especially when there are events or persons or things that serve as reminders. Of course -every sensible person realizes that when “‘forgive’ and forget” is said, the “forget” is not literal; not wiping the event off your memory, not lapse of memory, not failing to remember etc, but something else. This is merely “a manner of speaking”. But it has been observed that some, if not many, people are often worried and filled with guilt that they are not able to literally forget the wrong done to them. Some teachers and preachers in high places also argue and insist that since God wipes our sins out and wipes them off His memory permanently, we should be able to do the same in the literal sense.
Is it really possible that God can forget in that way – wiping the sin off His memory permanently? It is possible with God (not with man) because ”with God all things are possible” (but not “with man”). One philosopher even once said that with God all things are not possible, citing an example that that meeting where he said it had already taken place and God could not take it back and make it possible not to have taken place. How wrong he is! And this is because he is talking with human intelligence as man lives in space and time. With the intelligence of one in eternity where there is no beginning and no end, the event truly happened, has truly not happened and is truly going to happen all at the same infinitesimal dot of time and space for there is no time no space in eternity. The brain of man created into history can never comprehend this.
What is then the context in which we are talking of “Forget”? This manner of speaking only refers to your reaction to the wrongdoing. Your forgiving the wrongdoing completely is what it means – exacting no revenge nor sanction nor recompense nor punishment and then not reacting negatively (not being angry or bitter or experiencing pain), as expected when the event or wrongdoing is remembered. This sort of reaction is as if the wrongdoing did not occur or as if it did not hurt. With complete forgiveness, God removes the negative reaction from your psyche as you have wished and you are able to relate with the person or the memory of the event as if it did not hurt. You see, you have “forgotten” the hurt or you would have reacted ‘”appropriately” it seems. If you have forgiven completely you will notice that you do not feel unhappy or angry or bitter when you remember the wrongdoing but you rather feel happy that you have been able to forgive such an offence, especially when it is a very grievous one; sometimes you are moved to pray for the person, putting him in God’s merciful hands to be changed and be made to live good life and shun evil ways. This is true love. This will happen more easily if you have been practicing it. God’s grace helps you more and more to perfect the art.
For further clarification, let us have recourse to that Law of Motion which states that “Action and Reaction are equal and opposite”. This is also true in real life relationships in ordinary people not gifted with “Intentional Forgetting”. The action is the offence, the reaction which should be equal and opposite comes in the form of physical reaction and mental or emotional reaction. The physical reaction is the recompense or sanction or punishment for the action. If you forgive the offender, there will be no Physical Reaction (or else it is obvious you have not forgiven him) but there could still be emotional/mental reaction which is not seen by others. When you forgive and there is no appropriate physical reaction and no appropriate emotion, your emotion will be like that of one who has not been hurt, because it is not reacting. Since the hurt actually happened not reacting appropriately can only be explained in an ordinary sense as “forgetting that there was a hurt” otherwise there would have been an appropriate reaction if the hurt was not forgotten. That is why it is regarded as having been forgotten although it is being remembered easily.
If there is no Physical Reaction and there is no Emotional Reaction displayed in your mental state it should follow that the spiritual effect will be that of the ability to go the extra miles Jesus has recommended (Luke 6:27-35); you will then easily pray for his conversion and salvation and generally wish him well. This spiritual act is the usual thing one does for loved ones in ordinary life or at least for someone who has not wronged one. In the ordinary man’s language, therefore, you have forgotten wrongs inflicted on you or else you should not be praying for him and wishing him well if you have not forgotten that such bad things happened to you through that offender. The Christian has forgotten again and the action has not attracted an opposite reaction and has yielded an unexpected spiritual effect. We can see now that if forgiveness is complete, there will be no equal and opposite reaction in any of the ramifications of the two-pronged reaction. It is not the same as merely stopping the physical reaction (which is where many end their forgiveness) and going ahead with the Mental/Emotional Reaction in the opposite way and even going ahead with a negative spiritual activity such as cursing and praying against the wrongdoer. When Action does not exact any opposite Reaction in any of the ramifications it is complete and we are said to have forgiven and forgotten; this is the will of God and gives you peace. (Cf Col 3:13-15 Eph 4:32, Matt 18:21-35). Desire to acquire and perfect the art, pray and God will give you the enablement.
God gives the enablement to forgive and forget to those who desire it. It comes more easily to those who have been given the gift of the spirit of sacrifice rooted in love. Such people forgive so easily and so quickly that it seems they can even forgive before the injury is done to them. An attitude required to acquire and develop the art of forgiveness is “detachment”. It is difficult to seriously hurt a soul that is detached from worldly things; he is always happy and always wishes to remain so, and would not allow any ill-feeling to come between him and happiness: he detaches himself from that ill-feeling and continues to focus on those necessary things (Cf Phil 4:4-8) for “they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
It is common for most people to brand the complete forgiver “a coward” or “a weakling” believing that “giving fire for fire” is a mark of strength and the correct form of justice. The reverse is the truth, actually, because it is often easier to give fire for fire and it is the usual thing; it takes extra motivation and strength of heart to go an extra mile and do the unusual through having recourse to a spirit of sacrifice rooted in love. Because you are properly detached, you can sacrifice the hurt, sacrifice being called a weakling, sacrifice being called a coward, forgive completely, and do even more.
You can do what they can do but they cannot do what you can do and so you are the stronger one. Your reward is peace of soul and a positioning towards a chance to walk toward eternal life.