Forgiving is Not Forgetting (but maybe it should be)

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I used to have a great memory, especially for numbers, directions, and tunes.  For names and faces, not so much, but for sports trivia and other such unnecessary stuff, I was a memorizing machine.  It seems to me that the older my girls get, the more my memory comes into question.  I really hate that.

So, now I’ve started devising little tricks to help me remember things.  I’ve programmed birthdays and anniversaries into my computer and my phone, I’ve found important locations in the house and the office to put things so I know I’ll see them.  I am finding more and more ways to “tie a string around my finger” these days.

One thing I’m still pretty good at remembering, though, is pain.  When you do something that hurts me, whether you intended it or not, I have a remarkable ability to remember it for a very long time.  I’ll bet you’re like that too.  What is it about painful circumstances that seem to linger in our memories forever…long after we have expressed forgiveness?  And more importantly, does that mean we haven’t really forgiven?  After all, when God talks about forgiveness, He promises, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:34.  And we are commanded to forgive just as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).  So, if I have truly forgiven, why do I still have these painful memories of times I was wounded?

I don’t have the answer to that question.

But here is something I do know: forgiveness and forgetting are not the same thing, at least not for us (and don’t get me started on the question of how a God Who is not temporal–i.e., does not exist in time the way you and I do–can forget something…it makes my brain hurt).  For those of us stuck in this human existence, it is just not yet scientifically possible for us to select specific brain cells containing specific memories and destroy them.  Memories linger.  Painful memories linger longer.

The key to living a life of grace, it seems to me, is to take those memories captive and not let them dictate my behavior.  Therein lies the real practical effect of forgiveness.  It is not that I don’t remember what you did to me, it is that I will not allow that memory to change how I treat you.  I will still love you, and as long as Christ lives in me, there is nothing you can do (or fail to do) that will change that.

Now, one last intriguing question.  If it ever does become scientifically possible to select specific brain cells and destroy specific memories (and if it is easy and inexpensive to do), then when I forgive you for something, would I also be morally obligated to destroy the memory?  Think of the ramifications.  Completely forgetting about the abuse by a family member, or about the betrayal by a spouse.  Would you do it?  Should you do it?

I welcome your thoughts.

© Blake Coffee

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7 responses to “Forgiving is Not Forgetting (but maybe it should be)”

  1. The perpetrator and the victim see this entirely differently. The perpetrator says, “If you wanted to forget, you would.” The victim says, “I can forgive but I cannot forget.” Your questions are, “Would we forget, if that were humanly possible?” and “Should we forget?” Of course, ideally we humans would forget if we could. In fact, so much so that we would never have wanted the circumstance to happen in the first place! “Should we” is an entirely different matter. First of all, God reprimands His children. Painful lessons aid in melting the impurities from us and the reformation causes us to be more like Him. The perpetrator suffers repentance and receives love, forgiveness and strength. With that comes the result of humility and apathy. The victim suffers pain and learns patience, forgiveness, commitment and unconditional love and receives total strength and the evidenced senses from and through the Father. If we’re not taught lessons of brokenness, sometimes we are so very blinded in our own self-sufficiency that it is hard for God to actually show us personally the magnitude of His omnipotence which, of course, should be already known and accepted through our faith. However, when His healing power, unconditional love and total forgiveness are openly bestowed into our specific real-life experience to educate us and draw us closer to the Father while edifying Him to others through our example, then He can better use us to serve His Kingdom’s work. In the big picture, which we can’t see because we’re inside the box, His miraculous weaving of individual’s life lessons affects and teaches more about Him to us as well as everyone we come in contact with. As a result we honor Him with our presence and grow in Him to a greater degree as we draw closer and exemplify Him. “(God) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” II Corinthians 1:4

  2. God forgives and forgets our sin. However, He also allows for natural consequences to follow the sin. These consequences, if we allow them, will refine us. I believe the same to be true in human relationships. We forgive those who sin against us, but they are not off the hook for the consequences born of their sin. Sometimes a natural consequence of our sin against another may be the evolution of the relationship. The pain that accompanies this change in relationship can be an agent for growth in both the “offender” and the “offended”.

  3. Should we forgive is obvious, but should we forget? In answer to this I keep thinking about Romans 12:19 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” We don’t want to find ourselves in the same circumstances again, so totally forgetting may not be wise in the learning process, but it is important to minimize the memories, not to let them consume our thoughts or they will pollute our beings. Yes, taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ (2Cor. 10:5). So how do we do this? Paul says in Phillipians 4:8,9, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

  4. Mary, Lori and Pamela- The one thing all of your comments touch on is the understanding that God uses our pain (from our own mistakes AND from the mistakes of others) to mold us and to shape us. We learn from it. So, maybe we don’t really want to forget the pain, because it makes us a better person.

    Great insights, ladies!

  5. Our memories sometimes protect us from future abuse. “Should we forget”? Not always. I can learn from my pain. And at the risk of developing a hardened heart my memories can make me wise. I loved what you said, “…take those memories captive and not let them dictate my behavior.”

  6. I agree. If we chose to simply forget, it would change the people we’ve become through our heartaches, pain and joy. All of life’s experiences mold us and change us. All of us have had our hearts broken by someone in our lives. Then the heartbreak can either break our spirit, or can grow our spirit. I know what I choose. I choose growing in my relationship with with the healer of all heartaches, Jesus. Why would we choose anything else?

  7. is it really forgiveness, if you say you forgive a person, but never want to see them or have anythng to do with them again? say, in the case of an abusive husband that you are divorcing, or in the case of a famiy member doing something they know would really cause you pain but do it anyway? Are you required to keep coming back for more? Or is there a point you can say I forgive them, but stay away from them, because they have no intentions of changing, therefore continueing to hurt you?

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