Well-meaning adults used to tell us as kids, “Oh, just forgive him and forget it.” A playground scuffle, name-calling, and maybe even bringing the character of one’s mother into the argument would escalate into a full-blown argument and maybe an eight-year-old attempt to throw a punch. That’s when the adult entered the picture and told us to play nice. If a grudge was kept beyond the inital scuffle, adults tried to blow it off and gave us the classic cliche, “Oh, just forgive him and forget it.”

Maybe on the playground, that’s OK when all you’re doing is arguing over whose turn it is. But far too many of us get those words engraved in our minds as the virtuous approach to take with any transgression; we grow into adults thinking we’re supposed to always forgive and forget. We equate forgetting with forgiving. 

After a sermon on forgiveness, a woman approached me and said, “I know what the Bible says, but I can’t forgive. You don’t know what he did to me. I just can’t forget and act like it was no big deal.”

I agree with her. We should forgive when we’re hurt, but we should never forget.

Reason #1: We can’t forget.

Our brains are wired with memories. Everything we’ve ever done, said, or experienced is stored in our memory. No, I cannot remember my 9th grade locker combination (Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember it in the 9th grade). I cannot remember the plot of most of the novels I’ve read or what I had for lunch last Thursday, but I do remember the big moments. I remember traumaitc events, hurtful actions, and things that were bad enough that I need to show some forgiveness.

I just can’t force myself to totally forget something—but I can choose not to remember. Please don’t think I’m trying to be cute and clever with words. There is a big difference between forgetting something and choosing not to remember. After all, it’s what God does.

Do we really think the omniscient God of the universe could forget anything? Of course not, but consider what God Himself said:

“I ​— ​I sweep away your transgressions for my own sake and remember your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25).

In her book, Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom referred to Micah 7:19 …

“You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

… and said she imagines that, after hurling our sins into the sea, God puts up a sign: NO FISHING ALLOWED.

God knows about our sins He has forgiven, but He refuses to dwell on them. He doesn’t keep digging them up. We should imitate Christ and forgive those who hurt us. As we forgive, we don’t dismiss the pain and hurt as if it is no big deal, but we choose not to dwell on the event. When we dwell on the past hurts, we tend to relive them and let the pain keep eating away at us. 

You can’t forget, but you can choose not to keep remembering  and focusing on the hurt.

Reason #2: We benefit from not forgetting.

Sometimes we benefit from remembering past hurts. Jesus wants us to do this with Him. He died a cruel death, yet He wants us to remember. He instituted a meal as a way to remember His death and the pain of our own sin and failures. But we don’t remember so we can scream against the injustices of what happened to Jesus. We don’t remember to berate oursleves for our sin and rebellion. Jesus wants us to remember what we’ve been saved from. Our past was dark, but He brought us into His light. 

Remembering the past events in our lives is a reminder of where we are now. We don’t remember in order to relive the hurt or resurrect the hate we felt for the other person, but we remember in order to see how Christ has brought us through … freed us … walked with us … transformed us through it all.

“Redemptive memory is focused on love emerging from ashes, light that sheds darkness, hope that survives remembered evil.” —Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget (Harper Collins, 1984), 137.

I choose not to let the hurt of others define me. I choose to forgive, not dwelling on the past, but remembering how God has changed me in the process.

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