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The Folly of “Forgive and Forget”

Forgiveness is Freedom! | The folly of the old saying, "Forgive and Forget". God doesn't forgive and forget, and I don't think He asks us to either. | Virginia George

I wrote a post at Upside Down Homeschooling titled “Why It’s Okay Not to Forgive and Forget“.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing that phrase, and I’m not even sure where I heard it.

Recently I had a couple of situations with people that challenged me to question the whole “forgive and forget” idea. Forgiveness is Biblical, and we are clearly instructed to forgive. Jesus was asked ”As many as seven times?” To which He replied, “No,  not seven times. Seventy times seven times.” (Or seventy seven times, depending on your translation.) (Matthew 18, highly paraphrased.)

That’s a lot of forgiveness.

No only are we asked to forgive, but we are forgiven. When we ask God for forgiveness He says that “as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) When we are forgiven, our sins and shortcomings are separated from us and God chooses to see us without the tarnish of our sin. Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (NIV)

Does God Forget Our Sins?

I have heard teaching on Psalm 103:12 and Isaiah 43:25 suggesting that once we ask God for forgiveness, he forgets it ever happened.

Really?

The God of the universe, maker of all things, just forgets? It slips His mind?

I don’t think so.

Forgetting and Choosing Not to Remember

The English Standard Version of Isaiah 43:25 says, “…and I will never think of them again.”

There is a difference, friends, between “forgetting” and choosing not to remember. Forgetting is passive. To forget is “to fail to remember”. God does not fail… in anything.

An alternative definition of forget is “to put out of ones mind; cease to think of or consider”. By that definition, one is making an active choice not to bring it back to memory. They are choosing not to remember.

You may think I’m splitting hairs here, but there is an important distinction between the passive act of forgetting and the active act of not remembering. God does not forget. And I don’t think He expects us to either.

The Harm of Forgetfulness

The implication that we should forgive and forget as in the first definition, is nothing if not harmful.

Stovetops are hot. If you burn your hand on the stove, it will hurt, but it will heal. The next time you go to use the stove, regardless of if you remember that you got burnt and that it really hurt a lot, the stove will burn you again.

It is no different in human relationships. Yes, we need to forgive. Forgiveness is freedom. But we don’t need to forget.

Forgetting is not the same is not remembering.

Instead of forgiving and forgetting and opening ourselves up to the same hurts over and over again, I have another suggestion, but you’ll have to head over to Upside Down Homeschooling to find out what it is.

Does forgiveness come easily to you, or is something you have to work at?

Comments

  1. Thank you. Very well said. I’ve even had the conversation that forgiveness doesn’t always equal reconciliation either. You can forgive someone, but if you know they will be harmful to you or your family or your children it doesn’t mean your relationship goes back to what it was.

    • That’s so true. I have one relationship in particular (I’ve written about it before, The Friend who Doesn’t Want a Friend) where I really had to adjust my expectations for the relationship. It was difficult because I kind of treat all people the same, and I’m the same. So to have to take this person I am close to and change the way I talk to them was challenging. But I think the Lord is working in it and I’m glad I didn’t cut it off.

      I have recommended to friends before that if a relationship is toxic, it might not be worth trying to save. You’re so right.

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