We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been forgiven. We’ve all needed to be forgiven. But I seriously doubt we’ve forgotten.
“Forgive and forget” sounds good advice until you’re the one hearing it. When the conflict is 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?
Does God Forgive and Forget?
I am so thankful we serve a forgiving God! 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 fact is no one has perfectly kept all of God’s commands.
Jesus died on the cross in order to forgive our sins 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).
Isaiah 42:25 says the LORD will “sweep away your transgressions…and remember them no more.” This, however doesn’t mean that God literally forgets them. Instead, the power of sin has been swept away, so God does not call it to mind anymore. We see this portrayed in Jesus’ very own body.
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.
Forgiveness & Trust
God’s children are commanded to do as Christ did: to forgive and reconcile, even if it requires great sacrifice. We are called to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) and agents of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21). If Christians only show kindness and mercy towards those who are kind and merciful to them, then how are they any different from nonChristians (Luke 6:27-36)? Instead, Jesus called his disciples to a bold kind of mercy.
We can give forgiveness to those who hurt us. Sometimes forgiveness 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.”
“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!
Forgiveness is given. Trust, however, is earned. If a person has shown themselves to be untrustworthy, it is not a mark of wisdom to put your trust in them. At the same time, Christians are people who live with the daily reminder that God has redeemed them and transformed their lives. Of course God can do the same thing for this untrustworthy person who has caused us harm.
So what are we to do? For the most part, forgiveness means you give someone the opportunity to regain your trust, but that starts in the small things and slowly increases as people prove their repentance and trustworthiness.
Pray for Wisdom
Life is complicated. Relationships are messy. We all need to pray for wisdom, and live with a heart that desires to glorify God. This may lead us back to people who caused great pain in our lives. God can bring is truly beautiful and miraculous healing and redemption.
As you navigate broken or strained relationships – pray for God’s wisdom. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, who loved you while you were still his enemy. Remember Jesus’ prayer for his own crucifiers, “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.” And in your heart, ask the Holy Spirit to give you a desire to forgive and be reconciled. That is the starting point for all potential reconciliation. From that point, pray for wisdom and for the peace of the Holy Spirit. Because not every broken relationship will be mended on this side of eternity… but living with resentment and anger is contrary to the way of the cross.
(note: this post is an edited/revised version of an older post)