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.


Forgiveness: Gift Given or Received?

Luke 6:37-38, 7:47; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13-14

The Jordan River in Israel is a wonderful picture of the nature of forgiveness. The Jordan starts with waters from four major tributaries north of the Sea of Galilee. These tributaries receive their flow from the snowpack melt of the mountains, which form the Jordan. On its path, the Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, a freshwater lake teeming with life. At Galilee’s southern end, the Jordan continues its journey. It provides life all along the Jordan River Valley until it approaches its end at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has virtually no capacity to sustain animal or plant life. The Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. In fact, it is nine times saltier than ocean water! The Dead Sea has no outlet. Pristine, fresh waters at the Jordan River’s beginning pick up bitterness along the way. When these waters reach their end, with no place for the bitterness to go, the Jordan becomes virtually lifeless at the Dead Sea.


The question posed in the title is sort of a trick question. Forgiveness is a gift given and received. The more pressing question is what do we do with a gift that is received? Just as the Jordan River did not give itself water (it was bestowed by the hand of God), we should give forgiveness away generously. In Colossians 2:13-14, Paul makes a similar comparison regarding forgiveness. Christ gave us forgiveness without regard to any work on our part. God has been and is generous to us! Paul knits this theme in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he encourages believers to forgive others generously being mindful of God’s generosity toward us.


The Luke text is frequently used to speak to personal stewardship and financial support. It has application in this context. However, in its Biblical context, Jesus is calling us to generosity in forgiving others. In fact, Jesus tells us we will enjoy the more abundant gifts of forgiveness as we are liberal in our bestowing of forgiveness to others. When I am putting a very desired but soft item in a container, I ladle as much into the container as I can. Knowing there is the possibility of air being trapped, I tap the container hoping that settling will occur and thus more can be put in. Because of its value, I seek to make as much room in the container to receive more. Forgiveness is just that valuable! We forgive generously so it can come back to us (pressed down, shaken together) generously. Who doesn’t need abundant forgiveness!


The act of forgiving gives us at least a two-fold benefit. First, when we forgive someone, it frees us from having to carry the proverbial monkey on our backs. We don’t have to keep a record of the wrong with the intent of revenge. Literally, it frees our minds to do more God-honoring things. Secondly, when we forgive, it unleashes the capacity for our own healing. An unforgiving spirit is like an unattended, festering sore. It’s ugly! It does no one any good. It creates an environment that can poison and indeed take our whole lives.
Like the Jordan River, the life giving waters of forgiveness have been given to us by God. In the course of our lives, like the Jordan River, we will be touched by the potential for bitterness. That’s what life does. Our choice is whether we allow that bitterness to accumulate into the Dead Sea of our souls or will we allow the life-affirming waters to flow through us as the bitterness falls away? Give life to yourself and others!


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.


Forgiveness: Why is it So Hard? – Matthew 6:9­-15

“You don’t know how much they hurt me!” “I can never forgive him for what he did!” “I can’t ever forget what she did. How can I forgive her?” These are some of the words of the wounded. Cut me off in traffic, and my fellow commuters can be made to pay for weeks. Hurt me or the ones I love, and you may never get on my good side again! (Okay, enough confessing.) These are expressions demanding justice. No justice, no forgiveness. Welcome to Grudgeville! Holding a grudge is one of the manifestations of an unforgiving nature. Why is it so easy to hold grudges, but so hard to forgive? Here are a few statements that suggest you may have a grudge:

  • They knew better. They intentionally did it.
  • I would not do that to anyone.
  • They never liked me in the first place.
  • I always knew something was fishy about them.
Sound familiar?
In each of the above reasons, it is stated or inferred that the only relationship involved is between the one hurt and the one who caused the hurt. The more powerful relationship often omitted is our relationship with God. When that relationship is left out, it makes holding a grudge easy and forgiveness impossible.
In M​atthew 6:12,​Jesus states, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The model prayer is concluded in verse 13. Jesus’ commentary on the model prayer (​verses 14 and 15)​ is reserved exclusively to the issue of forgiveness. Jesus connects forgiveness in our relationship with others to our expectance of forgiveness in our relationship with God. In fact, Jesus tells us the same way we forgive our fellow human beings is the same standard by which God will forgive us.

Given the consequences of not forgiving, it seems we would forgive out of our own self­interest. Yet, it is our human tendency to dig in our heels against forgiveness. Why? Here are some justifications demonstrating unforgiveness:

  • God, You don’t understand how deeply they hurt me. W​hat a pride­filled statement. Do I really know better than God? Of course not!
  • I would never hurt anyone like that. T​his minimizes the degree I grieve the heart of God when I do that which He has told me not to do or leave undone those things God has instructed me to do.
  • I can’t let them get away with that. T​o forgive suggests I am giving someone something they don’t deserve.
  • I can’t accept their apology. I​ know they don’t really mean it. If I forgive them, they will just do it again.
  • I can’t forget it, so I can’t forgive.
In my heart of hearts, I know I don’t really want Divine justice. What I need is Divine mercy. When I understand how gracious God has been to me, I am compelled out of gratitude to demonstrate that same mercy (as demonstrated in forgiveness) to you. Because, I am still human, consistently putting forgiveness into practice is extremely difficult. However, I find encouragement in the words of the Apostle Paul,
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12­14)

In my next three entries,​I will dive further into the topic of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness: Is an apology enough?
  • Forgiveness: Gift given or received?
  • Forgiveness: Is forgetting possible?
Stay tuned!