I’m on the leadership team of the New Canaan Society/Grand Rapids, a mentoring ministry to young men, many of whom are not yet Christians, or guys who've grown up in the church but are indifferent, or wary of becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus. At one of our informal dinners last month our discussion topic was, “Is it really possible to forgive and forget?”
When asked what I thought, my answer was pretty straight-forward, “If it is possible to completely forgive and forget, I’m not very good at it.” Here’s what I believe the Bible and human nature teaches us.
Of course Christians are commanded to forgive those who have wronged us, whether they ask our forgiveness, or not. Jesus even gave us this serious warning if we won’t. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15
“What does it mean that God won’t forgive us if we won’t forgive others?” asked one of the men. “I thought all our sins were forgiven, past, present and future when we were born again.”
The Bible is very clear that if we are truly children of God, none of our sins will ever keep us out of heaven. So, in one sense, the Father has forgiven us because of Christ’s sacrifice. However, the Bible is equally clear that at the Judgment, all the good and the bad we’ve ever done, at least after we were born again will be remembered.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
So, it appears that God forgives but doesn’t completely forget. And every serious Christian theologian I know understands God will reward those who were more faithful, holy, generous and forgiving in this life, in the next. What the exact nature of these rewards isn’t clear.
So, what does it mean for us to forgive and forget the offense of others? At very least it means this:
1. Forgiving We are not to hold a grudge or wish ill toward anyone who has offended us. If I fondle my hurt and remember the offense over and over and dream of the downfall or public humiliation of this person, I’m not even close to forgiving them. The only remedy I’ve found is the moment I begin having those thoughts, I have to ask God to forgive me, right then and there and let the fantasy dies. If I do not, the real offense, or sin becomes mine, not theirs.
I also believe, unless someone has asked me for forgiveness, I should never tell them, "I forgive you." I may feel more self-righteous by telling them, but rarely was it received well. I've done that a few times in the past to people who don't think they done anything wrong to be forgiven of, and when they defended themselves, it was even more hurtful to me. Trust me. Just let it go.
2. Forgetting This depends on my relationship with “my offender.” I have people I’ve done business with who I’m wary of. Rather than risk being hurt or treated poorly by them again, I’ve chosen to not do business with them again. Is that really forgetting? Perhaps not in the narrow sense, but it‘s a wisdom issue for me. I have also found that time heals most wounds, or at least lessens them. There are people who wounded me years ago, who I rarely think about at all anymore. If I see them, I find my heart races a little faster, but I will often silently ask the Holy Spirit to empower me to be kind and respectful to them, even I’m still a bit wary. Forgiving and forgetting is a tricky business. To forgive is not to deny the past wrong. But it is denying ourselves the right to seek vengeance, payment, or even justice for the offense. It is human nature if we are wronged that someone should pay the cost of that offense. For followers of Jesus, like Jesus himself, we agree to absorb the loss and make no one else "pay."
“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” 1 Corinthians 6:7
There are times I’ve done it reasonably well and other times very poorly. However, this I’ve also found to be true; Those who have hurt me, sleep well at night. The only person I’m hurting by not forgiving, is Jesus and myself.