I overheard Clarence give the following advice to a mutual friend in Tulsa, “Forgive and forget, then forget what you forgave – otherwise you have not forgiven.” (A colleague had lied to the boss about Richard’s ability to do the job.) Later I told Clarence, “If the Bible says that, I will believe it.” Within a day or so he came up with the following verses:
Isaiah 43:25 – “I, I am the One who forgives all your sins, for my sake; I will not remember your sins.
Psalm 25:7 – Do not remember the sins and wrong things I did when I was young. But remember to love me always because you are good, Lord.
Hebrews 8:12 – I will forgive them for the wicked things they did, and I will not remember their sins anymore.
However, according to my studies, they did not verify Clarence’s statement, so the discussion turned to God’s character and the word “remember” in these verses. Agreeing that God is perfect in every way, which includes His memory, Clarence asked if God can choose to forget. I suggested that we not confuse the issue, but stick to what the Bible says.
The word “remember” means “to be mindful or cognizant of” and “to hold in continual remembrance.” So, if God “remembers my sin no more” it means, based on my repentance, God forgives me and does not keep thinking about my error. Another way of saying it is: He does not hold that sin against me. I’ve been pardoned.
We then moved to the word “forgive.”
“To forgive” means “to remove the blemish on the record resulting from the wrongdoing” or “to pardon.” The act of forgiving does not erase the offense or the event in real time because we cannot erase the past; but it is focused on purging the legal record related to the offense.
When President Obama pardoned seventeen people, he “… granted these individuals clemency because they have demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities.” Obama did not eradicate what they did, but removed legal liability. That’s what God does for us, and is what we are supposed to do for those who offend us. The offense or event in real time is not erased, but the judicial verdict or sentence related to the event is expunged from our record.
When we allow the Lord to heal us from hurts caused by others, the memory of the offense may actually become clearer and the details of the offense take on sharper focus; yet the pain will be substantially lessened – and possibly erased. Nevertheless, although the offense often IS forgotten, forgiving does not necessarily include forgetting.
Forgiveness is a decision based on our attitude towards God and relationship with Him. One woman in California fabricated a rumor about someone she was jealous of in church. With the intent of damaging the woman’s reputation, the rumor made its predictable circuit and grew substantially in the process. Not yet knowing the outcome of the rumor, the perpetrator’s conscience began to bother her so she went to her victim, confessed, and asked to be forgiven.
The victim said, “I will forgive you, but first let me tell you what you did.” As she recounted the repercussions (which included the breakup of her marriage) of the rumor, both women were deeply sobbing with their arms around each other and the two women became life-long friends.
Personal forgiveness does not always set people free from legal mandates or from physical consequences on the human level. For these two women, repentance was deep, forgiveness was genuine, reconciliation was complete, but the memory remained for life.
In the later 1960s a man in Southern California was arrested for murder. The family of the victim showed up in court and in Christian love truthfully told the judge, “We forgive this man and would like to set him free.”
The presiding judge wisely said, “It is good for you to forgive him, and both God and I honor you for it. Your forgiveness clears the record between you and God. However, this man has also offended the United States of America and justice must be dispensed.”
Forgiveness is not about letting the offender off the hook, but returning the right to dispense justice back to God and to the appropriate human authorities. Forgiving others, and asking to be forgiven when we err, keeps our consciences clear.
Clarence and I cleared up the allegations about Richard’s abilities, and the slander backfired on the perpetrator. But the memories remain; so along with the Apostle Paul, we are to humbly forgive others, and use those memories as stepping stones for personal and spiritual growth.