“The stupid neither forgive nor forget;
the naïve forgive and forget;
the wise forgive but do not forget.”
-- Thomas Szasz, MD
The phrase “forgive and forget” is often used by spiritual abusers and manipulators alike to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Such a situation usually occurs when an offense is brought to the attention of the responsible party. They offer an apology, but soon afterward, they repeat the same offense, perhaps deliberately or because of disregard for the importance of the matter to the offended party. When the offended person brings the matter to their attention again, the offender shames them by claiming that they never really offered forgiveness in the first place. They use the concept of “forgive and forget” to avoid the ongoing consequences of their actions, enabling them to continue to do whatever it is that they want to do without any accountability.
There can also be some reluctance on the part of the offended to deny that an offense has occurred or possibly just to avoid confrontation. We wish to get rid of the pain of whatever harm we've suffered, so we just avoid any reminders of the event. Through denial of the offense, we tell ourselves that we have made the choice to forget. But is forgetting the real key to forgiveness, or is remembering? If we do not deal with the offense, it never goes away. If we identify it as an offense, we can cope with it and resolve matters, securing our safety and restoring the relationship by dealing with the strife.
Jeremiah 31:34 says that God will forgive the wickedness of the people, “and will remember their sins no more.” We are not told anywhere in Scripture that we must forget matters of history, only that we must forgive the debts that are owed to us. I don't believe that we really are capable of truly forgetting events, but we can relinquish vengeance or payback. We learn by remembering (but God has nothing to learn through the process and risks nothing by deliberately separating the East from the West).
The Servant as a Forgetter
I dusted off my old copy of Chuck Swindoll's very popular book, Improving Your Serve, wherein he explains a better way of framing and defining “forgive and forget.”
He defines his “Servant as a Forgetter” concept not as a forgetting of actual events in the literal sense but rather a change of focus in our attention which God transforms into a change of heart. In fact, the only thing forgotten is the debt that is owed to the offended party, abandoning any need, expectation, or desire for apology, restitution, or revenge. As Christians, we do not do this in our own power or effort. God Himself brings a type of “forgetfulness” of the debt owed to us. As we move through the stages of forgiveness and resolve our grief over what we lost in the offense, God works in us. We move into resolution and love for those who hurt us, but we do not forget what happened.
How do we do this? Swindoll offers us three primary ways by which we can forget the debt and the hard feelings, all resolutions we make that are mediated by the miraculous love of God in our hearts:
- Refusing to keep score (1 Corinthians 13:5)
- Being bigger than any offense (Psalm 119:165)
- Harboring no judgmental attitude (Matthew 7:1-5)
We don't really forget – if we could truly forget, forgiveness wouldn't be that much of a process and would not be such a struggle. It wouldn't matter how well you forgave or for what motive, either.But forgetting is something shared with no other person. It's a solo flight. And all the rewards are postponed until eternity . . . but how great they will be on that day! Forgetting requires the servant to think correctly . . . which means our full focus must be on the Lord and not on humanity. By God's great grace, it can happen.– Improving Your Serve, (pg 72)
We need to forgive and remember, for when the hurt is deep,
we need to learn something in the process about how to protect ourselves. . .
. . . [B]ut when we experience real forgiveness,
there is more to remember than the pain.
We are reminded of what God has done and is doing in our lives
through His forgiving us and our forgiving others!
Forgiving the Unforgivable (pg 27)
More to come on forgiveness!