We Choose Not to Remember

February 21, 2009

This is a very common problem and a very common statement. I must confess that I have changed my answer to this question over the years. If you go back and listen to my sermon tapes on forgiveness from a few years ago, you will hear me say something like, “If you haven’t forgotten, you haven’t forgiven.” I’m smiling as I write these words because that statement is so obviously wrong I wonder what made me ever think that way. We all understand that God “forgets” our sins when he blots them out, puts them behind his back, and casts them into the depth of the sea. He can “forget” our sins because he’s God and has the power to do things like that. But we’re not God, and our painful memories often return to haunt us.

In pondering this problem, my mind ran to a scripture in the book of Hebrews that speaks of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Surely if we have trouble forgetting, what about God who never forgets anything? Hebrew 10:17 quotes God as saying, “Their sins and their lawless acts I will remember no more.” Underline that last phrase, “I will remember no more.” God’s forgiveness means He chooses not to remember our sins.

That’s helpful, isn’t it? Forgiveness is a choice we make. It is not a feeling or a mood or a passing notion. Forgiveness does not mean we somehow wipe out of our mind the record of what happened. Forgiveness means we choose not to remember it. There is a big difference between remembering something and dwelling on it. We can all remember (if we try hard enough) things in the past that have hurt us deeply. Forgiveness means we choose not to dwell on those things. It also means we choose not to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us.

Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was talking with a friend one day when the name of a person they both knew came up. Years before that person had done some very mean things to Clara. The friend asked Barton, “Don’t you remember when she did that to you?” “No,” she replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

For more about this, see my book The Healing Power of Forgiveness.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?