Q&A | Can I Truly Forgive and Forget?

My question is about forgiving and forgetting. Even God says in the Bible that though you’ve been forgiven you will still face consequences for your actions. We humans are asked to forgive and forget and sometimes it’s really tough and you can’t forget. I read somewhere that if you haven’t forgotten then you have not forgiven. 

Yemi Osinubi: We have several admonitions in scriptures to forgive Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13 that says, ‘Be kind to one another tender hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you’. But also, speaking of God’s forgiveness to us, here’s a Bible verse from Psalm 103:12-14 that says, ‘As far as the East is from the West so far as He removed our transgressions from us, as the father pities his children so the Lord pities those who fear him for he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust, our days are like grass” and it goes on. 

The idea is that if God were to continue to remember our sins, he would deal with us in such a way that we would not enjoy a relationship with him, but we have to understand that the phrase as far as the East from the West to mean that God has taken our sins away from us, ‘the forgetting’ is not literal; God does not wipe his memory of the things we have done to him, it’s that he’s made a decision because of his love, mercy and kindness, to not treat us according to the sin so when you come to him in confession and he gives that forgiveness, he assures us that his righteousness clothes us and he will continue to deal with us as righteous people covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. So tomorrow, if you do the same offense and you come before him with a repentant heart, he will forgive.  

So, regarding forgiveness when it comes to we humans, Jesus disciples came to him and asked, ‘How many times should I forgive my brother, seven times?’ thinking that was big, but Jesus said, “No, I tell you, ‘seventy times seven’”, meaning, if he comes tomorrow and he asks for forgiveness, you have to forgive him and you have to treat him the same way, like Colossians 3 tells us, ‘as Christ forgave us’, meaning you have to still consider that person and provide forgiveness. 

Now, there are other contexts in which you may say, we have an ongoing problem and we need to talk about the reason why you are committing the same offences over and over. However, I’m referring to if the person is repentant and you forgive him as God requires of us, so that we’re able to treat that person as God would have us. It’s not always physical or emotionally possible to forget that this person offended you but if there’s an underlying root in that continuous offense you may actually have to deal with it, and so the outworking of your relationship in light of the person’s offense and their request for forgiveness may actually take time and hopefully you both can work through it but having said that, if you are able to do that deal with it, you can then say, ‘I’ve released my brother from his offense’, then you should make sure that you are treating him as someone who has been renewed. Again, there are sometimes where your knowledge of somebody’s weakness, or a particular pattern of behaviour may mean that the way you behave towards the person accommodates that knowledge such that you’re not putting yourself in the same position that hurt you. Often, Counselors, Therapists and Pastors can deal with these kinds of relationship issues between you and that person but generally speaking, we’re not forgetting but forgiving, so we continue to treat that person like Christ treated us and then we will find out that the offense fades.  

You know, I meet people today that who greatly offended me or my family in the past but we’re close now and once in a while, I may remember that ‘Oh my goodness! I could have been mortal enemies with this person. In fact I believe at one point in time, I held a grudge against this person but look at us now, because of Jesus, we are laughing, we’re rejoicing, and it is a marvel! When the offense comes to mind, it’s not ill-willed, it is a marvel at the grace of God that allows that relationship to be mended and made my heart even forget that person offended me, even for a season. 

Femi Osunnuyi: I can’t improve on that but I just want to give an illustration. You know, Jesus died for our sins, but he rose again to show that we are forgiven. Now, someone can then say, ‘he died for our sins, so he forgave us and he forgot’ but he rose again and he still has the scars, right? He still has the mark of the nails. Yes, he’s risen but the mark is still there and in fact, it’s a wonderful thing that the mark is there because it then demonstrates how marvellous this grace is, as Yemi was saying, the fact that he can sometimes remember past offenses and just say ‘Wow, despite this offense, I can still be close to this person?’. So there’s a way remembering the transgression can work in a redeeming way and point us back to the gospel, where you remember that despite my own transgressions, God forgave me and then link it to this person who has offended you and it then makes sense how you are able to forgive and be close to that person, it’s like ‘of course, that’s the grace I’ve received!’ 

And you see, for those who say, ‘just forget’, we may in some ways, diminish the grace itself because we are demeaning the pain that was caused, so we can be aware of the pain but we won’t use the pain and the sin to actually destroy the reconciliation, we would use it as a landmark, a symbol to show this the power of this grace that we have used to forgive.  

Yemi Osinubi: And the reverse is also true, when you do consider Jesus and that mark and forgiveness you can then apply it to a relationship that is difficult for you to restore or a person that is difficult for you to forgive, that’s what God expects of us. 

Answered by Yemi Osinubi, leader at City Church and Femi Osunnuyi, lead pastor of City Church.