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Forgiving and forgetting
- Jacob Ninan
One of the most difficult things for us is to be able to forgive others from the heart. Yet it is very crucial for us to learn to do that because we cannot even ask for forgiveness from God if we are not willing to forgive others (Mt.6:14,16;18:34,35). As we see from the parable of the servant who was forgiven much by the king and who was unwilling to forgive his fellow-servant for a small debt, we do not understand what it is to receive 'grace' if we cannot be gracious towards the others. The first thing we need to do is to decide to forgive. We do not have to worry if we are struggling to get over the feelings of hurt even though we want to forgive. God who looks at the heart sees that we have decided to forgive. He accepts that (2Co.8:12). Feelings will cool down, once we have decided to forgive. Thoughts of hurt may come up again and again in our minds. But once we have chosen to forgive and hold on to that position, the strength of temptation will become less and less each time. Forgiveness is not based on feelings but it is simply a choice to withdraw all demands for vengeance from our side on the other person. In other words, we are letting him go free.
But forgetting is another matter. When some people tell us to forgive and forget, we must know what is practically possible and what is not. We can forget in the sense of giving up all our just demands for vengeance on the other person, and we can leave that matter to God (Ro.12:19). But we cannot forget in the sense of coming to a place where there is no memory of the things that have happened. In fact the more we try to do that, the more we remember them! When God says that in the new covenant He will not remember our sins any more (He.8:12) what He means is that He will not bring them up against us any more; He will not remember them in an active sense. Of course being God He knows and remembers all things forever!
Another naive way in which we try to forget is to look at the other person just as if nothing bad has happened between us in the past. This is unrealistic if the offence is serious. If he has hurt us badly in the past, we can forgive him without waiting for him to repent and have an open heart towards him, but we cannot simply assume that he will not do that again to us. We need to be convinced that he has changed, and it may take time for normal relationships to established. It may take only one mistake or sin in a moment to make one fall in another person's eyes, but it takes a long time to regain one's reputation. This is one of the unpleasant consequences of sin (Ga.6:7,8).
If it is we who have hurt someone else, it is unrealistic for us to expect that just because we have apologised he should treat us as if nothing has happened! We must realise that our present behaviour should demonstrate our repentance and change of heart, and that it may take time for the other person to get confidence in us again. We must walk by faith, but in a real world.