It's been more than a year since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Time has passed, and the lives of 28 people are now being remembered by their loved ones. The perpetrator of this evil deed died along with the victims, by committing suicide. But what if he were to have lived? We know that there are some that would condemn him to hell in a heartbeat, maybe even vouching for a public execution. But as believers, we are called to forgive, are we not? Yes, it would've been unthinkable to have lost a child, brother, sister, parent, or spouse in this manner - but Christ does call us to forgive the ones who have sinned against us.
My issue, though, is with the idea that, along with forgiving the man who murdered someone I loved, I would also have to FORGET it ever happened - in order to have "genuinely" forgiven them. Some of the reasons told to me by well-meaning Christians, are that our "peace" and "happiness" depend on how quickly we forget. Though I do agree that one must not hold grudges, and that, by the minor nature of some offense, one can easily, involuntarily, forget some sins, it is dangerous to believe that "forgetting" is a requirement of forgiving. But let's dig deeper, what are the problems that "forgetting" brings to the table?
1. We don't actually forget.
Aside from cases of amnesia, we tend to remember most things that happen to us - ESPECIALLY something that has hurt us deeply. The only time we willingly "forget" is when an event occurs in our life that is so traumatic, it causes us to suppress the memory of it, and convince ourselves it never happened, in order to deal with the hurt.
Normally, if someone offends you, even if you were to forgive them, you would still remember what that person did to you. God made us with memories, with the ability to recall things in our heads. That's why we can build relationships, learn new things, adapt, and interact with the world around us. So, if we don't actually forget then that means that...
2. We are lying.
We deceive ourselves, and other people, when we pretend to not remember the hurt we've suffered at the hands of others. It is not a Godly attribute, nor a part of forgiveness, but a coping mechanism designed to pursue our true reason for living - "happiness." Ignorance is bliss. Why should we have to wrestle with the pain of having our feelings hurt? Why should we bear each others’ sins? It is easier to wipe our minds of what happened, so that we can live in peace and tranquility. Unfortunately, this is what many victims of abuse tend to fall prey to, because facing the reality of the brokenness they've experienced is an agonizing trial. If you know someone going through this, PLEASE don't go and try to make them relive the events after reading this. Rather, in love, serve them by being transparent of your own sufferings. Nothing brings people closer together than the sharing of scars. Jesus knew this, that's why He displayed His suffering openly on Calvary. That's why He showed Thomas His nail-pierced hands - not just to prove that He had resurrected, but to show that He had suffered for him.
Which leads us to our last point…
3. True forgiveness bears the sins of others.
Jesus did not forget your sins on the cross, He bore them. He put on the sins of all mankind, and dismembered them publicly. When the Apostle Paul calls us to longsuffer with one another (Ephesians 4), he isn't calling us to push back against the thoughts of our hurting and pain, but to push through them, and to serve those who harm us.
You might then say, "WAIT! Doesn't God say He forgives and forgets?" referring to Isaiah 43:25. Well let's look into this too:
1. God is Omniscient
God knows all things, at all times. If it is true that He forgets, it means that He loses His omniscience, thereby, making Him NOT know everything, and ultimately stripping Him of the title of God. When God said that He does not remember our sins, He was calling the people of Israel to repentance- that their sins would not be brought against them. It is not a remembrance that has to do with God's literal memory- being that in the verses following, He recalls the sins of their ancestors. It is a forgiveness that does not condemn us for our past iniquities, and that kind of forgiveness requires a sacrifice to be made. If we look at the passage in Isaiah completely, we see God telling the people of Israel that they have not sought Him out, nor offered sacrifices towards Him. Instead, they sinned perpetually without remorse. The passage then concludes with God casting judgement on Israel. No sacrifice, and no repentance, leads to God's just wrath. Man had no sacred goat or sheep that could cover his sin. Man rebelled against God's commandments joyfully. God was perfectly just in sending divine wrath and destruction to us all. But, instead, He provided the sacrifice, by giving His only begotten Son. He provided the gift of repentance through the Good news of Christ. He exercised mercy and grace, NOT because He forgot our sins, but because Christ paid for them.
2. God is gracious and merciful.
Grace and Mercy are some of the most important traits of Christianity. Grace, by definition, is "an unmerited gift". Mercy is "withholding judgement or punishment." In order to truly exercise either one of those traits, one must be conscious of the actions or character of the person whom mercy and grace are being bestowed upon. The perfect example of this is in Matthew 18:21-35, "the parable of the Unforgiving Servant." Jesus, here, gives us a picture of a king forgiving one of his servants. His servant fails to mirror his master's ways, and sends one of his own debtors to prison. The king hears of this, and judges this wicked servant for not showing mercy, after having been forgiven his debts. Now, if the king was supposed to forgive and forget, why did he remind the servant of the debt He had just forgiven? He never forgot, he just did not hold him accountable for his debt - because the king took that financial hit for the servant out of mercy.
If we forgot the pain and hurt that others caused us, what is there to overcome? Imagine I lost all memory of someone stealing something from me. The next time we meet, I will be nice to them, not because I overcame strife and hurt in order to love them, but because I am ignorant of any sinful action the person has performed against me. And to that let us look at what Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-45:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Let me paraphrase a bit. What good is it if you love someone, that you don't remember ever offended you? How can you long-suffer in that situation, if the memory of suffering is gone? When we marvel at those who can forgive the murderers of their loved ones, we marvel because we know that the memories of the ones we've lost will never leave us. And the pain, and heartache of losing them does not fade away like a fog swept away by the wind. Yet, they forgive, not out of a sense of trying to forget what happened - but because of the ultimate example of grace and mercy they have in the cross of Christ.
True forgiveness does not delete the memory of the offended, rather it reveals the love and grace of God in them, that allows for mercy and patience for those who have sinned against them - despite the pain of their wounds.