Is “Forgive and Forget” Biblical?

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been forgiven. We’ve all needed to be forgiven. But some hurts are simply too difficult to truly forget.

“Forgive and forget” sounds good advice until you’re the one hearing it. Then, when it’s personal and when the hurt is deep, it seems like you’re expected to do something impossible. And for the Christian, it begs the question: Is “forgive and forget” biblical?

cloud-over-mountains
The Foundation: How God Forgave Us

Reconciliation begins with God. The character of God is the starting point for who we are as people created in His image. Because “God is love,” and because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” we know that he is a God of reconciliation.

The Bible teaches that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “There is no one on earth who is righteous” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). You can say you’re a pretty good person, but the reality is we all stand guilty before a holy God.

Jesus died on the cross in order to forgive our sin and to remove the judgment we earned for ourselves (Romans 6:23).  We have been forgiven and washed clean through faith in Jesus Christ, “There is… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Jesus was crucified and nailed to the cross. When he rose from the grave, we know he still had nail holes in his hands. We know this, because Jesus showed them to Thomas when he said he wouldn’t believe Jesus rose unless he saw them and touched them. (John 21:24-29)

Jesus’ “resurrection body” still had scars. He remembered the sin for which he died. He remembered Thomas’ doubt. He perfectly forgave and remembered. This is the drive behind our efforts at conflict resolution: to embody and reflect the reconciling-love of God through Jesus Christ.

“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13, ESV)

Forgiveness is Given, Trust is Earned
Over the last few weeks we’ve talked a lot about forgiveness and reconciliation. God’s children are commanded to do as Christ did: to forgive and reconcile, even if it requires great sacrifice.

We can give forgiveness to those who hurt us. Sometimes this can take a long time to really give, and that’s ok. The deeper the offense, the longer it will take before you can really forgive that person. Don’t rush it. It’s ok to say, “I want to forgive you, and I’m trying to. But I’m just not ready yet, I need more time.”

Trust, however, is earned. Maybe the person simply isn’t trustworthy. If you were foolish enough to trust them, don’t be foolish enough to forgive and forget then trust them again! For the most part, forgiveness means you give someone the opportunity to regain your trust, but that starts in small things and grows as people show us we can trust them.

“He who walks with the wise becomes wise. A companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). If you suffered harm because you were hanging out with fools, then forgive them but don’t start walking with them again!

Reconciliation Takes Two
The good news that God became a man through Jesus Christ, that he suffered and died in our place so we could be reconciled to God is the foundation for the Christian life. The gospel is especially applicable when relationships are painful and difficult. Jesus says this about reconciliation:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” (Matthew 5:23-25, ESV)

There are a few things to notice. First, reconciliation is worth pursuing. It’s important enough to leave your offering at the altar in order to take care of relational brokenness. But secondly, he makes it clear that reconciliation requires agreement. It’s two way. You can’t be reconciled to someone who doesn’t want to be reconciled to you. If you can’t “come to terms,” then you’ve done what you can do. This isn’t permission for one effort, then you can wash your hands. But it is acknowledgment that reconciliation doesn’t always happen the way we hope.

If someone has wounded you and refuses to acknowledge it, or if you apologize but do not change their attitude or behavior, then you can forgive them, but you simply aren’t reconciled.  They have chosen to avoid reconciliation.

When To Create Space
Because we live in a sinful and fallen world, there are times when you need to forgive and create space between yourself and the person you’ve forgiven.

  1. When you fear for your safety. If you are in an abusive relationship… get out! If there is abuse in your home, tell someone and get somewhere safe. Abusers always apologize and promise it won’t happen again. Remember, trust is earned.
  2. When there is potential for arrest or serious punishment. Don’t be a companion of fools and let them bring you harm. Even if you don’t start doing all the same things they do, they will still drag you down. Is that really who you want to give your time to?
  3. When there is no respect for your faith in Christ. Do your friends take every opportunity to mock your Christian faith? That’s not what friends should do. If your friends try to provoke you because of your faith, then you will eventually respond harshly. Notice this falls under the category of “create space,” not “completely avoid.” Create space, but leave enough closeness that you may still have a godly witness to them… this requires discernment.

Pray for Wisdom
Life is really complicated. Relationships are messy. We all need to pray for wisdom and live with a heart commitment towards glorifying God. If we are faithfully praying for wisdom and with a desire to glorify God in all things, we will be equipped to know how to live as peacemakers.

(Note: This article was originally written for my youth group blog as a wrap-up on a series on Conflict Resolution.)

2 thoughts on “Is “Forgive and Forget” Biblical?

  1. Thanks Mike. I always enjoy your insights. Perhaps difficult at times, but some solid advice from Jesus, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

    Keep up the good work.

    In Christ,
    Seth

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