written by Tina's Marine
Many, many years ago, something very tragic happened in my family. It wasn’t something that you could hide. It wasn’t something that you could forget. It wasn’t something that you could just walk away from and pretend it didn’t happen. It was something that rocked not only our family, but our church. It is tempting to tell you what happened so that you understand the seriousness of this sin but that’s one of my secrets that I don’t tell very many people. Some day my kids will be told but not right now. The sin was dealt with, justice served, and punishment given.
Now what? Forgive and forget? Not possible. Forgive? Possible. Forget? Not an option. We grow up with the "forgive and forget” mindset. I don’t remember being told specifically, while growing up, to “forgive and forget” but it is the mindset of many people. We are taught to forgive. It’s biblical. We can go to Scripture and find guidelines of how many times we should forgive, when we should forgive, and who should go first when seeking reconciliation. We see many examples through Scripture of forgiveness starting in the first couple chapters of Genesis and all the way through to the end of Revelations. We have Jesus showing us the ultimate example of forgiveness while He hung on the Cross for our sin.
Does forgiveness equal or result in the forgetting of the infraction? When someone has sinned against us, what do we do? Forgive. The Bible is clear on that and I’ll let others debate on if you can or should forgive or offer forgiveness to someone who has not asked for it or genuinely repentant in the wrong that they have done.
It’s not always easy to forgive because we have some faulty thinking. We might think that if we can’t forget what they did to us, then we have not forgiven them. We might think that if we insist they suffer the consequences of what they did, then we have not forgiven them. We might think that if we don’t allow them to have the same privileges or liberties that they had before they did anything, then we have not forgiven them. I think that we have all thought these things at one time or another. I know I have.
I believe this is why we equate forgetting with forgiveness. We think, if I can just move on like nothing ever happened, then I know and I can show others that I have forgiven them. If I can’t do that than I’m not “turning the other cheek” or “forgiving 70 times 7” or some other Scripture that is used regarding forgiveness.
What we seem to forget is that the Bible is also very clear that forgiveness does not remove or lessen the consequences. It does not automatically restore a relationship to its previous position or condition. It does allow for a relationship to start the healing process. Depending on the infraction would make a difference on how long the healing takes. Remember the abscess? The sin (abscess) can be acknowledged, dealt with, and treated but it still takes time to heal.
About fifteen years ago, a couple of years after my family went through our horrible ordeal, I was dealing with this issue of “forgive and forget.” I was concerned that my attitude, actions, and reactions were not in line with Scripture. I went to be a counselor at a Christian camp and during the training week we had a lesson on forgiveness. The first thing the young counselors started to say was that you “forgive and forget.” I brought up the point that some things you just can’t forget. I was able to get some Godly council from our camp director and we became friends. When I decided to go back to college, he’s the reason I chose the one I did and ended up meeting my wife, so, “thank you, Dr. J.”
My biggest concern was that even though the person who hurt our family seemed to be changed or at least trying to change, I just didn’t trust this person. How could I be sure that this person's new-found belief in God was real or just another calculated move to gain our trust again, to make us love this person again? I never stopped loving but could I trust this person again? Is this person really different? Over the years, I’ve done my best to maintain a good relationship with this person and I believe that there has been a change in this person's life but in the back of my mind there is still a small nagging doubt.
When Tina and I got married, Chris, Tina’s mom, came by herself to the wedding. We had our first child ten months after the wedding. We went to go see Chris in NH. Daniel, her husband, had been released a couple years earlier. While there, Daniel asked to meet us because he wanted to talk with us. We met at a donut shop and he apologized for “things I may have done to you but I can’t be specific because my lawyer told me not to.” We knew he was talking about the physical and sexual abuse he had done to Tina. We accepted his apology. Was he truly repentant if he would not say what he had done and willing to accept the punishment for his sin? I’ll let others debate that but I’ve been wondering about that recently myself. I also understand that it is human nature to avoid consequences, even when you know you deserve them.
Over the years, Chris has wanted to come visit her grandchildren (she did once right after our youngest was born) but she wanted to bring Daniel. We told her that if he came he was not allowed in our home. We said it was fine if he came but they’d have to stay in a hotel. She could come over and we’d be willing to meet in public places but we were not going to put Tina and our children in a position where they could be abused in any way. This made Chris upset because Daniel had asked forgiveness and we weren’t showing that we had forgiven him if we didn’t trust and believe him that he had changed. We’ve been accused of being unforgiving and unloving because we’ve put boundaries up to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Has he changed? I don’t know but I do know that I’m not going to put my family in a position to find out that he has not changed. He has not earned that privilege. Is he forgiven? Yes. We forgive him. Should he still pay for his crimes? Yes, that’s Biblical. Can or should we put him back in a position of trust where he might abuse again? I won’t. With some things, maybe trust can be restored. In this case, I’m not going to take that chance.
Let me tell you a story that I was told about a family that I have known since I was child to give you an example of the problem of believing in “forgive and forget.” As a child, I knew a couple that were friends with my parents. The woman used to watch me and my sisters. This couple has two children who are now grown and married. What I found out recently was that the man had been abused by a relative and then this same relative later abused his daughters. I can’t tell you how much that still hurts and bothers me on so many different levels. The biggest one is why didn’t the father keep his children away from the person who abused him when he was a child. They’re Christians. Did they do the “forgive and forget” and hoped it wouldn’t happen to their children? Did this relative tell them he’d changed and my friends didn’t want to seem unforgiving and unbelieving and so trusted a man who ended up betraying their trust? I’m not sure but I don’t want to be the father who didn’t take the precautions to protect his children even if others think he’s being unforgiving.
Another example happened between my dad and I. When I joined the Marines and went to boot camp, I gave my dad my checking account. I was gone for about three months and you don’t have access to anything and your paycheck is deposited into your account. When I got home there was nothing in my account. My dad had used it. Now, he did pay it back within a week but he used it without permission. I guess he thought it was ok since he was my dad and I would have said “yes” if he had asked but it was just strange. A couple years later when I got deployed to Saudi Arabia for a few months, I needed a power of attorney for my finances and instead of giving it to my dad, I gave it to my mom. I had doubts about my dad and so I asked my mom instead. It’s not as serious but a trust had been abused and I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again.
Each situation will be different and the seriousness of the abscess will determine the severity in which it must be dealt with and how long the healing may take place. I’ll forgive but you’ll have to earn my trust again.
I remember growing up asking the question, “How does God forget?” We are told that God puts our sins as far as from the East is from the West, which means they never meet. We are taught that this means that God does not remember our sins. Is this true? How is God forgetting something possible? I submit that it is not possible. What is possible is that if we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, our sin is covered by His blood. God does not see it but what made that possible? The penalty for our sin nature was paid for on the Cross. Our spirit is made alive by Him because Jesus paid the cost because we are sinners. Forgiveness came through the payment of sin. In the physical realm, would this mean that forgiveness can only come through paying for your sin? Can you be forgiven if you can walk away from your sin without any consequences?
Spiritually, a Christian has their sin forgiven but physically, there are still consequences for sin and the things we do while here on earth. We can’t just do what we want and say that because God’s blood covers our sin and He does not see it spiritually and so you should not look at it here physically. In other words, you can’t say “forgive and forget.”
Does forgiveness equal forgetting? I would answer “no.”