Forgiving Without Forgetting

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
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Many people live with the myth that forgiveness means forgetting. They’ll point to what the Scripture says about the way God has forgiven us, how He has flung our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).

But the Bible never says that God “forgets” our sins. How could a God who knows everything forget anything? Instead, the Bible says that He has not “counted” our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:19). He has chosen not to remember them against us (Hebrews 10:17), not to bring them back up, never again to accuse or condemn us with them. He has modeled for us the silent promise of forgiveness.

So the fact that you have not been able to forget the offense doesn’t necessarily mean that you haven’t forgiven it.

We may be tempted to think how wonderful it would be if we could just forget all the pain—how much easier to forgive, if we didn’t have to deal with all the memories. We could all wish that God would just take that divine eraser of His and in one fell swoop purge from our minds all those negative images of the past. Right?

I’m not so sure. I have discovered that the most stinging memories from the past can be powerful reminders of the grace and forgiveness of God, living monuments of His mercy in my life—markers that keep me dependent and trusting.

Further, the memory of past hurts can provide a powerful platform for ministry to other hurting people.

If we had no memory of how it feels for our hearts to be exposed and laid bare, damaged by the blows of sin and injustice, how in the world could we ever understand the pain that people around us are going through? How could we possibly be tenderhearted and compassionate toward them? And how could we reach out to them with His comfort in any sort of meaningful way—if we could not identify at least to some measure with suffering’s sting?

“The most stinging memories from the past can be powerful reminders of the grace and forgiveness of God.”

Those memories help us realize how easy it can be for someone to find herself consumed with anger and sinking in desperation. They give us the ability to look others in the eye and say, “I’ve been there. I know. And I’m telling you, His grace is sufficient for you.”

The Scripture reminds us that affliction not only allows us to receive deep, rich comfort from God but gives us a basis from which to minister that comfort to others:

The Father of mercies and God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

This is so important. Forgiveness is far more than just a way for us to “cope” with our own wounds. The mercy and grace of God and the lessons learned along the way are intended to extend beyond us and be a means of blessing to others.

What God has invested in us is not just for us.

Thank God, of course, that He mercifully chooses to keep some things eternally withdrawn from our memory banks. But thank Him, too—as He gives you the grace to do so—that He chooses to leave behind enough to make us useful in ministering to others.

If we could totally forget, we would too easily become self-absorbed and useless. And deep down, we know it.

For Further Reading:

Choosing Forgiveness

by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Perhaps you still remember the moment, the time of day, the look in the other person’s eye, when you were deeply hurt by someone you...

book cover for Choosing Forgiveness