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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.

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