forgiving without forgetting

Forgetful Forgiveness – a Guest Post

About Forgettingforgiveness

I got married and moved to Ohio last summer. Thanks to the jumble of new things to memorize, I’ve forgotten plenty of semi-important things in recent months – where Walmart is, the last digit of my Social Security number, how to make popcorn, my name.

We never really plan to forget things. We just do. Names and dates go floating out of our heads, never to be seen again.

Hurts and disappointments cling a little closer though. Have you ever tried to intentionally forget hurtful things that happened? We love to sling around the ol’ “forgive and forget” motto as a one-size-fits-all remedy, but that’s not always helpful.

forgivenessOur Petty Griefs

I’ve never been a victim of the Holocaust or faced a husband who cheated on me. I’ve never had to forgive murder, abuse, or persecution. Horrors of that sort seem to be on a completely different plane of forgiveness – they cannot merely be forgotten.

In comparison, my sack of petty griefs holds nothing. Yet I’m capable of getting bitter over small injustices; I don’t wave my benevolent hand and simply forget.

I’m thinking particularly of those everyday grievances we tend to collect: a family member makes a comment that rankles us, church friends plan something and forget to invite us, people we trust neglect us. Our secrets get told and our plans get ruined.

We’re hurt or annoyed, but we know those things are small. We close our mouths and choose to quietly forgive. Personally, I feel just a smidgeon of sainthood when I forgive that member of my household who leaves a Kleenex in his pants for the washing machine to chew up.

A friend of mine recently commented, ”So often I say I’ve forgiven, and I’m convinced I have! But I’m still doing little things in retaliation.”

Intentionally or not, our actions mirror our attitudes. Sometimes our attitudes are not as sacrificial as we think. We may say that we forgive That Person for the Horrible Thing They Did (and truly mean to forget about it), yet still allow ourselves to be affected by the wound we’re nursing. It’s hard to resist a jab at someone who has, we’re pretty sure, sunk daggers into our own flesh. Punishing an offender in small ways – in ways that aren’t blatantly sinful – lets us get back a bit of our own.

We may become critical about that person’s faults, either in our heads or out loud. We crack a joke at their expense. We sigh loudly when they disappoint us again (we just knew they would).

Sometimes payback looks like avoiding or withholding – avoiding friends who seem to dump us in a ditch on their way to greener pastures or withholding compliments from people who can’t say anything nice about us. After all, they’re not investing in the relationship. Why should we?

forgivenessGod’s Permanent Gift

Of course, looking to God’s standard of forgiveness helps us realize how small our injustices are. His mercy – reaching out to us when we could not want Him, paying our own debt against Him, and providing a way to relationship with Him – is beyond the scope of our imagination. He is the skyscraper to our anthill.

When we confess our sin and repent, He chooses to pardon us completely. Christ’s death eclipses our wrongs. God doesn’t seek revenge, since there is nothing more to be paid.

Here’s another comforting thing about God’s way of forgiveness: He doesn’t constantly remind us of how wrong we’ve been or how often we’ve offended Him. Many verses in the Bible tell us God “remembers our sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12). Of course, we know that God doesn’t actually forget the past. But C. H. Spurgeon explains it like this:

“The great Father’s heart is not brooding over the injuries we have done: his infinite mind is not turning within itself the tale of our iniquities. Ah, no. If we have fled to Christ for refuge, the Lord remembers our sins no more. The record of our iniquity is taken away, and the judge has no judicial memory of it.” [1]

Colossians 3:13b says, “…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”. If we forgive like God does, then we must “forget” like He does. We choose not to dwell on past offenses. Maybe our aim is not to forget pain, but to surrender our desire for payback.

That raises other questions: what is the difference between paying someone back and honestly avoiding an unhealthy relationship? What is our obligation if an offender hasn’t repented or changed at all? What do you think?



Amanda.jpg Amanda Wenger is the author of this guest post.  She reads the classics, the Bible, and the signs of the times. She’s probably read your Facebook page. But don’t read into that.



[1]  Spurgeon, Charles H. “God’s Non-Remembrance of Sin.” Sermon No. 1685. Accessed April 22, 2019.


This post was first published on the blog Radi-Call (calling young Anabaptists back to The Root.) For more information about Radi-Call, click here.

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