Friday, May 11, 2012

Forgive and Forget

We often hear about the need to "forgive and forget". This advice is an important one because the root of all problems in our life is the problem of unforgiveness. We don't get along 100% and no matter how "compatible" we are to another person, we will still find something that we do not share commonality with. This is the hallmark of relationship and we better get used to that idea.

I smile often when young courting couples come excitingly to me asking for the church to start pre-marital counselling with them. The naive dreamy-like way they go about their relationship suggest that they do not know each other well enough to realize that the biggest challenge to their relationship will come in the first two years of their marriage. Couples only really learn to love each other when they are married and staying together in the same house. The real test of their relationship comes when they find out how incompatible they are and still able to willingly adapt to each other's idiosyncrasies. 

The biblical standard of love is "agape". I love you not because of, but in spite of. Love often is not associated with the feeling of "liking" somebody. Love is not just a feeling. It is always a choice. That's real love. God loves us while we were still sinners. There's nothing good and nice about us, but He loves us anyway. That's why Jesus said to "love your enemies". It's obvious that we don't 'like' our enemies but to suggest that we must like them first would be a humanly impossible task. Thankfully we know loving and liking can be mutually exclusive as a start. Liking may come later but it is not a necessary prerequisite to start loving.

Just to test the theory, let's look at 1 Cor 13:4-8

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

Notice that love is not a feeling word here. It is a "doing" word. We can do all these without the need to like. Liking may or may not come. It is not the end goal. Love is the end goal. It is like saying "joy" is more than "happiness" because the latter is dependent on circumstances while the former is in spite of circumstances.

Do a quick exercise now. Substitute the word "Love" above with your name and your role. For e.g. if you are a husband, then you can say "Chris as a husband is patient. Chris as a husband is kind. And so on." or "Chris as a father is patient. Chris as a father is kind." Apply this test to your different roles and you will be amazed how much or how little we are able to love others. Unforgiveness often reveals more about ourselves than we would like to admit. This can be an opportunity of great growth in our lives.

Let's come back to the point about "forgive and forget". The idea behind this phrase subtly suggests that we should feel okay about the person and it is possible to really mentally forget. Guilt sets upon our hearts if we still have the tinge of dislike. If that is the case, then we may have gotten it all wrong. We know we can never forget. Our brains are not like a hard disk where we can "clean wipe" the entire hardware without leaving any remnants of its memory that can be recovered later. Scientists suggest that we have short and long term memories. I would surmise that hurts in relationship would burn deep into our conscious and subconscious mind as long term memory which is impossible to erase.

So how does one forgive and forget? Let me first ask a question, how does one know he/she is healed from a pain. Imagine a cut on our arm. How do we know we are healed? We know we are healed when we press the wound and it is no longer painful. But we can still see the scar. It is there as a reminder of the cut but it doesn't bother us anymore. I believe to forgive and forget means that the wound does not bring anymore pain although the memory of it is still in technicolor. It's visually there but emotionally impervious. The forgetting part is not the memory of the event or person, but the part on the pain that we forget. We cannot recall the feeling of pain anymore.

I can relate to that. I can still recall various incidences when I was hurt. But thinking about them does not bring back the terrible pain that I went through then. It doesn't bother me anymore! In fact I can smile at them knowing the powerful lessons learnt. I now know I am totally healed. I can truly forgive and forget!

That's why the Scripture reminds us about not allowing the bitterness of our hearts to grow deep into our minds. 

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Forgiving and forgetting is a discipline that one must cultivate so that the roots of bitterness do not go too deep into our lives. Every gardener knows that when weeds are spotted, it is best to pull them out immediately before the roots go in too deep. If the roots are too deep in, every time we pull out the weeds, it will grow right back up from its root system. The writer of Hebrews have wisely counselled that unforgiveness is like weeds. Pull it out immediately!

Are there hurts and pains that you need to forgive and forget? Think about it, that you do not need to "like" but to make a choice today to think and do good to that person. If you are a Christian, pray for him or her for God's blessing. And do good to that person when opportunities arise. Such incidences often reveals the depravity of our own hearts, the inability to love as God would have us love. It won't be easy but we can lay our pains and hurts at the foot of the cross because He understands. Hebrews 4:14-16. I know it wouldn't be easy and praise God that we do not need to struggle through this alone.


  1. I find the easiest to forgive is when my security and eyes are on Christ. It's only when I am self centered or focussed it's very difficult to do so. In Christ all things are possible.

  2. You are absolutely right! The basic premise of forgiveness is the cross. We are forgiven and made righteous before God because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our sins became His sins. We can forgive because we are forgiven.

  3. Thank u for creating thiz page this saves me and the many souls out there who will be able to reach this page godbless u now i know how to forgive

  4. I am glad it helped you. I came across this quote:
    The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.
    - Thomas Szasz