Forgive and Forget? 

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A friend said this to me recently: “‘forgive and forget’ is one of my most hated phrases! People say that stuff to try and ‘fix’ you but  it gives you no skills, no tools and no process to actually do that! It’s like telling someone to build a house without any education or a hammer.” 

So does the Bible instruct us to ‘forgive and forget’? 

The answer is that the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses instructing us to “forgive one another” (Ephesians 4:32 and Matthew 18:35) 

We are told in Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (NLT) 

A paraphrased definition of forgiveness from Wikipedia, which also covers forgetting is this: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and lets go of associated negative emotions. Forgiveness is different from condoning, excusing, forgetting, pardoning or reconciliation.” 

Forgiveness is a decision. Since God tells us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice and effort to follow this instruction. We have to ‘work’ at it. It can take time so allow yourself time to keep chipping away at it. Hebrews 12:14-15 says “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (NLT) 

So what about ‘forget’?  

Philippians 3:13 says “…but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.”  (NLT) The word ‘forgetting’ here comes from a Greek word ‘Epilanthanomai’ which has 3 different definitions: to forget; neglecting, no longer caring for; and forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for. 

We cannot delete memories from our brains so let’s look at the second meaning here which would involve ‘no longer caring for the offence’ 

As all intelligent life we live by trial and error. Our brains have been designed by God not to forget for the purpose of learning. Take the example of touching a hot kettle. From this we learn that kettles can sometimes be hot and we learn not to put our hand on it when it is. The same applies to people and life experiences. If we have a bad experience with someone, we assess the situation and learn from it, we do not forget so that we do not get ‘burnt’ again.  

Proverbs 22:3 “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (NLT) 

Being cautious does not mean we have not forgiven. 

Let us continue to work at Ephesians 4: 31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT) 

If we can do this ‘forgiving and forgetting’ become so much easier! 

Katy SComment