Forgiveness: Is forgetting possible?

Forgiveness: Is forgetting possible? Micah 7:19, Ezekiel 20:25-32, Zechariah 1:4

 

“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.


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Forgiveness: Is an Apology Enough? – Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

The Matthew 7 text opens with a command for us not to judge. We are charged of God to deal with a person’s actions, but not to pass judgement on the content of their heart. When you hear the words of an apology, are you judging another? Are you allowing pride to keep you from moving on?

So, is an apology enough for me to forgive someone? Yes and No. For the one forgiving, an apology is enough. For the one seeking forgiveness, an apology is not enough. Now, I’m going to get very picky with words. In the Luke text, we are commanded to rebuke (point out a wrong) when we see a fellow believer doing wrong. We are to forgive the person who wronged us. Period! If we are the ones who wronged someone, repentance MUST precede forgiveness. There is an ocean of difference between apologizing and repenting. To apologize is to say one is sorry for the wrong or hurt inflicted upon another. It says nothing about their future intent. To repent is to say not only that I am sorry for the act but, in my heart, I intend not to do it again. Thus, Luke 17:4 concludes with the command that we are to forgive a person in a fault if they say I repent for the act seven times in a day. Hold on! Don’t tune me out yet!

In the Matthew 18 text, Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven (verse 22). He then goes on to tell a parable (story) about forgiveness from the kingdom’s perspective. The king in the story is a metaphor for God. The King (God) was willing to forgive the unjust servant his debt. But, take a closer look at verse 26. The unjust servant didn’t want forgiveness. He was sorry for the debt incurred and he wanted a chance to make it right. The unjust servant did not understand his debt was so enormous the only way the account could be settled was for the One (God) owed to forgive the debt. He was sorry, but he was not repentant. It is evidenced by the way he treated the servant who owed him. The second servant used the exact words the first servant used with totally different results, however. When the Master learned of this, he had the unjust servant turned over to the torturers. The unjust servant apologized but his acts validated an unrepentant heart.

So is an apology enough? The answer is, “What do you mean when you apologize?” If in your heart, an apology is equal to the definition of repenting, then an apology is enough. If you know your apology does not rise to the level of repentance, then you must repent. If you are the wronged person, forgive. Take their apology as an opportunity to move on in your own life. You can judge another’s actions, but you cannot know someone’s heart. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart. From your heart, let go and move on. If you are the person who does the wrong, ask yourself what your apology means. Repentance or not?

Sins produce consequence just like a hammer hitting a crystal vase. Regardless of intent, the vase is destroyed. However, God has the capacity to restore that which the world has shattered. When forgiveness takes hold, restoration can occur. Thus, is forgiveness a gift we gift or a gift we receive? Join us in the next edition in this series.


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Hope and Grief Living Together – 1 Thessalonians 4:13

On December 1, 1975, just after nightfall, I received the phone call from Folkston, GA Momma had died. An 8.6 magnitude earthquake rocked my world followed by an otherworldly tsunami. I was 15 and I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Surviving this seemed impossible.
 
Events like Momma’s death affect all people regardless of one’s relationship with Jesus. They are painful. The pain of death is universal. How we handle that pain is not. I am often troubled in the world of church how often we equate expressing the pain as being contrary to true faith. I reject that notion. When a person is stabbed, they scream; saved or not.
 
As Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, (Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) he had to deal with two very powerful realities:
  1. The return of Jesus was not as immediate as some had believed.
  2. Those who died before Jesus’ return were considered lost.
 
Death was real for the early believers, just as it is for us. What we think about death and the life to come is the repository for our hope.
 
Frequently, this text is used to say that grief is a demonstration of having no hope. Paul’s comparison is not grief versus no grief. Rather, it is hope versus no hope. Key elements of this theme are also captured in 1 Corinthians 15: (Read the chapter! It is awesome!)
  1. The timing of Jesus’ return does not alter the eternal hope given when one accepts the Christ.
  2. Death is already a defeated foe.
  3. There will be a family reunion of believers (queue the O’Jays singing “Family Reunion”).
 
I love old school music. I especially love vinyl records. One of the biggest fears for a vinyl record was for the record to get a scratch. With a scratch, the needle (stylus, for you audiophiles) would get stuck in the same place on the record causing the record to skip. You would have to give the needle a little nudge so the music would continue. If the scratch was large enough, the needle would have to be nudged a few times during the course of a single play. Sometimes you would have to buy a new vinyl if the record was too badly scratched. Unlike vinyls, death doesn’t give us the option of buying a new reality. So we are encouraged that when our life (the vinyl record) is marred by death (scratched), hope (the nudge) helps our lives get back on track.
 
November marked the 40th anniversary of Momma’s death. Since she died, I often think about the wound of her absence. But this time it felt different. I couldn’t remember the sound of Momma’s voice. This pain hit my heart as I prepared Resurrection for worship service. I shared this personal moment with my church family as I was not sure I could lead the service. They prayed and encouraged me. Even with a heavy heart, I continued to lead worship. Why? I had the hope that I will see Momma again for a little family reunion.

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