Lee Lewis
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Is Forgiving Forgetting? What to Do When You Remember Pain

January 22, 2016

Lee Lewis

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Lee Lewis

I have been in and around church my entire life. As I have gotten older, there are certain “church sayings” that I have had to check for their truthfulness. One such phrase is “forgive and forget.”

Since pain is so pervasive, it doesn’t take long to see the ripple effects years beyond its origin in your life. If a person has hurt you so that forgiveness is necessitated, then what are you to do when you remember the pain? Is it as simple as forgiving and forgetting? Is that what God’s Word calls you to do? How would God call me to process a remembered pain?

Is the saying “forgive and forget” biblical?

The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in Scripture. However, Scripture does say that love keeps no record of wrongs and that love conquers a multitude of sins. But does this mean you simply forget the sin committed against you? “Forgive and forget” most likely comes from passages like Psalm 103:12 and Micah 7:19.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

“He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)

Because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God will never again allow the knowledge of these sins to play a part in relating to you. Christ reconciles you to God the Father, who then sees you as washed us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) through Christ’s shed blood. Humans are not able to do this perfectly like God does, and this is why regular reminders of the gospel are so important.

Christ’s atoning work on the cross perfectly covers all of your past, current, and future sins. So any pain you have dealt with in the past, are dealing with in the present, or will deal with in the future is perfectly cared for by Jesus. The gospel frees you up! You have been forgiven so you are able to forgive (Col. 3:13, 2 Cor. 5:18-19).

So to answer the above question, “Is the saying forgive and forget biblical”? No, it is not. But God perfectly models what forgiveness entails through Christ. You are called to walk in the power that is extended to you through his mercy. To let the pain from a past hurt or offense keep you from walking in healing is to misunderstand the all-encompassing work of the gospel to save, sanctify, and glorify us.

How do you process remembered pain in light of forgiveness?

This question assumes that a person has forgiven an offense or is humble and open with the process of forgiveness. Where there is no evidence of either of these scenarios, then forgetting is used as a form of self-protection or a form of avoidance that’s unwilling to press into painful situations. Neither leads to life and joy in Christ.

There are those times when God takes memories of heartache and pain away. So it isn’t that forgetting isn’t possible. Scripture simply does not couple forgiving and forgetting.   In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul comments on the pain and sorrow. He writes, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

First, there is a worldly grief that is horizontal in focus. This is a remembering of pain and sorrow that is shallow, consumed by bitterness, and filled with self-pity. With worldly grief, the filter for processing the remembered pain is not the gospel. Instead of the pain and suffering being brought under Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13) through the power of the gospel, any filtering of past sufferings that have endured is done the way the rest of the world might do it.

Second, there is a godly grief expressed in earnestness, eagerness, longing, and concern (2 Corinthians 7:11). This leads to salvation! Earlier I mentioned Christ’s atoning work covering past, present and future sins. This is where you see this part of the gospel erupt on your behalf. When memories of pain and sorrow caused by others come up, you have this promise at hand: Through Christ you are freed up to remember the pain endured and not to be determined by the memory. Second Corinthians 5:17 says it best: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

How do you turn remembered pain and sorrow into a godly sorrow?

  1. Look vertically first. There are so many things that can quickly provoke a memory. Not too long ago I was thumbing through a book I was given before I went to college. Immediately my mind went back to several painful memories associated with that period. I found myself critiquing my current living in light of the disappointment and pain I had experienced all those years ago.   In God’s grace, however, I quickly realized how I was sinking. God reminded me of His faithfulness during that season of my life. The painful memory quickly became a point of praise and gratitude to the Lord.
  1. Bring your sorrow underneath Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). When old sorrows come beckoning, the tendency is to remember the hurt as if you were alone. If you go to your island of pain, then you miss the triumph that comes in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. In bringing memories of pain under Christ you acknowledge that you have not been left alone. Your story of pain becomes His story of redemption. It is laid down for His glory!
  1. Be teachable before the Lord. Honestly and humbly ask the Lord to reveal anything He might want to teach you in light of the memories. In my own life the Lord has taught me about His faithfulness and my deep need for him over and over again. I have also seen many times over the years how God has used remembered pain and sorrow in people’s lives to reveal bitterness they had in their hearts. As we look to the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins, the glorious gospel propels us into the world as agents of grace.
  1. Worship God! As he disarms your heart and gently pours Truth over the memories, you should allow the gratitude and worship to flow towards Christ.

Join the conversation

What do you think hinders people the most in moving beyond past hurts? What ways have you used to help people grasp the significance of forgiveness in such cases?