Forgiveness: Is forgetting possible? - Micah 7:19, Ezekiel 20:25-32, Zechariah 1:4
Updated: Aug 16
“You haven’t forgiven if you haven’t forgotten!” This is one of the expressions I have heard so many times among believers and non-believers. It was an expression used to call out people for their unforgiving spirit. As a psychotherapist and theologian, I find it troubling to place a burden on someone to forget as a “proving standard” that one has forgiven. Forgiveness means I will no longer hold another’s transgressions against them in such a way that it prevents me from demonstrating Godly love. Forgiveness does not mean I forget your history. Okay, I hear you! “Pastor, that sounds like justifying your reluctance to forgive in the future based on a person’s history.” Let’s see what the Bible says.
In Micah, God, through the prophet, calls Judah to turn from (repent) its unjust treatment of the least fortunate among them (sin) in order to be forgiven. If Judah were to repent, God declares, “He (God) will have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You (God) will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (7:19) The sea in this text is often referred to as the sea of forgetfulness. “There! If God can forget the sins of a nation to prove His forgiveness, we can surely forget the wrongs people do to us to demonstrate our forgiveness.” If this were the only text, then I would have to relent. In the Ezekiel text and the Zechariah text cited above, God reminds Israel of national, sinful history. He calls to remembrance the sinful legacy of their forefathers. God remembered! Did God forgive the nation of Israel? Yes! Did God forget their sinful history? No! Did God cease loving Israel because He remembered their sin? No! Forgiveness is a demonstration of the very character of God; Love. Remembering does not violate that character.
We are called to forgive all people i.e. not allow their wrongs to keep us from demonstrating the character of God through each of us. Remembering i.e. not forgetting does not mean a person has not forgiven someone. It simply means I am aware of your tendencies. Furthermore, if I see those tendencies I know to take the necessary precautions not to get stung again. Let me try this example. Not knowing the character of bees, I walk near a swarm of bees and get stung. The next time I see bees or know I am coming in close contact with them, I make it my business to try to cover my exposed skin or be on the lookout for a bee buzzing around me. I know I have ‘forgiven’ the bees because I did not retreat from being close to them. However, I remember their history and take the necessary precautions. I had to heal from that first sting. The bee had absolutely nothing to do with my healing. It took someone bigger than me and the bee to heal me.
Forgetting is impossible. Choosing not to remember (call up one’s past) is forgiveness!
I anticipate a lot of thoughts and comments on this one! Look forward to it.