Does forgiving someone mean forgetting what they have done?

26 Apr 2017 -- Posted by : admin
That catchy phrase “forgive and forget” has coloured our understanding of forgiveness. Jesus says to forgive, but he doesn’t tell us to forget altogether that someone has done something. Unfortunately people sometimes get confused here and quote some Bible verses that seem to point to God himself forgetting sin. Like Isaiah 43:25:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

However, there a couple of issues with understanding this as meaning that God actually forgets sin. Firstly, when we say that someone forgets something, it tends to be a result of a failing of their memory, a flaw in their functioning. However we know from what else the Bible says about God that he is perfect. Further, God says in Amos 8:7 “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” So God doesn’t have a memory problem. Things don’t just slip his mind.

Secondly, crucially, Isaiah 42: 25 says that God “will not remember your sins”. Considering this in light of all that we know of God as revealed in the Bible, this means that God will not recall someone’s sins. He will not bring them to mind again. He will not hold their sins against them. This is very different to forgetting.

This is what God does with our sin now that Jesus has died on the cross: He considers the sin payed for, dealt with and not to be thought about by himself again. For a Christian, their sin has been removed and God isn’t going to bring it to mind again. God’s wrath against that sin has been absorbed willingly by Jesus, and now there’s no more punishment. So there’s no need for God to remember it. This is better than it slipping his mind! Thank you Jesus!

So, what does this mean practically for us? Now we've established that God doesn't forget, but rather does not bring to mind our sin against him, or hold it against us, what should we do?  How should a Christian deal with someone who sins against them? As Jesus says in Matthew 18, we should forgive them. But as we've seen, we don't need to forget about it! If someone punches me in the teeth once, they might do it again, so it will be helpful to remember what happened the next time I meet them! However, I can choose not to remember the incident by not dwelling on it, allowing anger or hatred to develop towards that person. I can choose to refuse to use that incident as a way of pulling that person down in conversation with others, or to shame them in some other way. This is what God does with us. He chooses not to hold our sin against us, to use it to shame us or accuse us.

At this point, some of us object strongly "But you don't know what happened to me. Their sin was so bad, so grievous, I have to forget". We've been hurt deeply by people and we want to forget. We may have tried to forget what happened, in the interests of protecting ourselves emotionally. But often forgetting doesn't work. As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, we have memories (which we are often glad of, just not in this case). We can remember things. And we may not be able to forget. For this reason we need to choose to do what God does with our sin; He forgives it and chooses not to recall it. Not to dwell on it. Not to let it define his action towards us. We'll need to ask Jesus to help us to do this. He can help our aching, struggling hearts to forgive people and then not bring back to mind the sin that we suffered. It can be painful, and might not be quick, but this is an area where the Holy Spirit can go to work in our lives in a radical way, and is essential if we are to mature in Christ and live for him.

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