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: 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!


Why Pray? – Luke 18:1b; James 4:6-10; 5:13-16

I have stood at the bedside, in courtrooms and at the altar with many brothers and sisters who have cried from the depths of their souls for God to intervene in situations thought impossible. I can truthfully say I have seen times when God has granted what we have prayed for. And, I can truthfully say I have had to dab the tears of those when God has not given what we have requested. If there is no guarantee we will receive what we have requested, why pray?
Having shepherded God’s people for almost 20 years, I have seen people grow weary in praying. The cause of this weariness resides in an immature understanding of the sacred, blessed privilege God bestows to His children. Let me start by echoing the words of scripture, “(Human beings) always ought to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1b). I believe the words of Luke and James provide a pathway to not losing heart.
Why Pray?
The clearest reason to pray is stated in the Luke text — So we don’t lose heart. Losing heart is a condition that shouts defeat. When God’s answer to our prayer leaves us with a lost heart, the cause may be:
  • We have forgotten Whose will is paramount and,
  • To Whom are we praying.
God’s divine will is never conquered and the God we serve is never defeated. As His children, we may be wounded but never destroyed. Our hopes may be dashed but we prevail ultimately in all things. Tears are a testament to woundedness not defeat.
Posture in Prayer
God is God. Simple, but often overlooked. Our posture is to know that even though God calls us friend, (Read John 15:14-16) it does not reduce the fact that God is God. To live this out demands a reverent sense of humility. The Book of James is one of the more practical books in the New Testament. In the Chapter 4 cited text, James strongly encourages us to understand this relationship. In our culture, humility is equated with defeat. In our relationship with God, humility says, “I know in whom I can trust and depend! I know who is in control. I am humbled in prayer because I know I’m not in control.”
Faith in Praying
In 2 Kings 20 and 2 Samuel 12, we get a glimpse into the prayers of King Hezekiah and King David, respectively. In one case, God added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life. In the other, David’s son died. James 5 tells us, “The effective, fervent prayer of (the righteous) avails much.” (5:16) In the original Biblical language, avails means to strengthen or make strong. I would love to state that prayer guarantees we will get exactly what we desire. I have Biblical evidence and experience to affirm we don’t. What then does effective, fervent prayers avail? If we pray, trusting God:
  • Knowing God’s in Control
  • Knowing God loves us
  • Knowing in Him we are never defeated
Then we should never lose heart, faint, or get weak. That is a huge availing! We can affirm the words of Paul that declares in all things we are more than conquerors. (Read Romans 8:31-39)
Regardless of how mature one might be in the faith, no one gets a pass from life’s trials. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1 (KJV) It assures us God is with us in troubled times. What is often overlooked is that God is present, because we will have troubles. Prayer is the primary means of accessing the grace of God’s presence. Being in the presence of the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God should strengthen us for any battle.


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.