How many times have you heard the statement, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget”? When I hear those words they are nearly always spoken with a tone that says, “I am holding on to the pain and I will deal with the offender accordingly”. What seems to be said is, I forgive, therefore I will not seek revenge, even though I could, but, I will treat this person differently as a result of their offense. If I am right and that is what often lies behind the statement, then we really do not understand the nature of forgiveness or forgetting.
If you are to truly forgive someone then you must never forget what they have done. Yes, you read that right. If you are to truly forgive someone then you must never forget what they have done. If you forget it, then you have not forgiven. Look at the encounter between Jesus and Peter following the resurrection. In John 21 Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” At the third asking, Peter is heartbroken. Why? Because the last time Peter was asked the same question three times he denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus knew that and remembered that. In an incredible act of grace he out that event back on the table and let Peter know that it was alright. He was forgiven and restored. In order to truly forgive Peter, Jesus had to remember the betrayal. Then, in spite of the pain that the betrayal gave Him, Jesus then treated Peter as a brother whom He loved and forgave.
Forgiveness is about treating someone with the love of God, in-spite of what they have done. When you remember the pain of rejection, the anguish of betrayal, the shock of being sinned against, forgiveness becomes evident when you still treat that other person like Jesus treated Peter, like He treats you. If I never remember what they have done, I am not being forgiving. I am just absent minded.
Forgiving and remembering means that not only do I refuse to take revenge, but I also determine to do something positive. I determine to treat you with love, respect, and dignity and I will not hold your sin against you. That sounds and awful lot like the way God treats us because of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.
Finally, the person whom we are to forgive also needs to know that we know and remember what they did. If Jesus would have never brought the denials to the table, yet treated Peter well, there would have always been a lingering doubt. Peter would never have really known if he was forgiven or if Jesus simply forgot about the denials. He would have been eaten alive by guilt and doubt. But by putting it all out in the open Jesus makes it clear that He knows what Peter did and He still loves and forgives him. Forgiving and forgetting is not the answer. Remembering and forgiving is.