“The Bible says you should forgive and forget.”
How often I have been told that!
I wonder, was Jesus ever told that? What about Paul? Or Moses? Or God? Because none of them preach forgive and forget! Actually, they taught the exact opposite… to forgive, and don’t forget.
I get told to forgive and forget when someone does me a wrong. As a teen, it was me saying “I’m so angry SoAndSo stole from my purse! I should confront them!”
And I was told, “Now, now, it’s better to forgive and forget. Let it be.”
As an adult, I’ve had people tell me of their spouse beating them, and then the victim says, “But if I hold my love’s violence against them, then I’m not forgiving them. So I choose to forgive and forget. I know in their heart they didn’t mean it.”
Good Christians – don’t forgive and forget. You are NOT floor mats, to be stomped on, ripped and torn, and hurt. You don’t have to be a victim to be Christian. You don’t have to forget who and how others hurt you. You are not called to abuse.
“However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven.” ((https://www.gotquestions.org/forgive-forget.html))
Listen to our scripture today:
Peter asks Jesus “how many times should I forgive a brother?” and offers the generous 7 times. Then, just as now, we say something like fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Or, 3 strikes you’re out. Seven times is an awful lot of “second” chances.
But Jesus says no – forgive your brother an unlimited amount… and then he tells a parable to explain what he means.
In this parable, a king has loaned an absurd amount of money to his servant. The king called this guy in and said it is time to pay back what you borrowed — but the man didn’t have an absurd amount of money to return. So the king said – well, then, we’ll sell you and your wife and kids and home and all you own into slavery.
The guy in insane debt fell on his knees and begged for forgiveness. He promised to make all things right if given time. He begged for mercy.
The king had pity. Instead of saying – okay, I’ll give you another year. Or, okay, I’ll sell only you and not your family into slavery. Instead, the king said — I forgive you of this 300 million dollars. You don’t have to pay me back. The indebted man got so much more than what he asked for.
Note – the king did this when the servant asked for forgiveness from his heart. Additionally, the king did it out of pity — you can only have pity on someone or something from a position of power. Otherwise, you commiserate. The king looks down on this guy, and out of his power over the man, chooses to forgive everything when the weak one asks.
This isn’t a situation of an abused person forgiving their abuser. That would be the weak forgiving the powerful. This is a case like your bank choosing to forgive your house mortgage entirely because you wrote to them about how you can’t pay the mortgage right now and you’d like more time before they foreclose.
So the deeply forgiven man heads out. He passes someone else who owes him some cash and he says – hey! Pay up!
Just like the forgiven man had done, this guy also falls on his knees and pleas – give me some more time! I’ll pay you everything back!
But the forgiven man doesn’t forgive this guy or give this guy more time. Instead, he throws the man in prison.
Sorta like your bank forgives your whole mortgage, but then you sue your cousin because he missed a payment on the car you cosigned for him.
So word gets back to the king about what the forgiven man has done. The king summons the man back, and says – hey! What’s the deal? You pleaded with me for more time, and I gave you way, way more than more time. Your coworker pleaded for more time from you, and you didn’t forgive his debt like I did yours, or even give him the time. Instead, you chose to throw him in jail. I guess that’s the way you want to be treated too. So, into jail with you until you pay the absurd amount you borrowed from me — just like you did to your brother.
Jesus then concludes his story by saying God treats us the same way – if we forgive, we are forgiven. If we demand payment, God will demand payment.
Now… did anyone FORGET in this story?
Absolutely not. Actually, remembering is a major part of the forgiveness. The forgiven guy is supposed to remember how much mercy — unwarranted gifts — he has been given. He is supposed to remember the kindness he has been shown. And then he is supposed to give that mercy and kindness to others when they are in the same situation he was in.
The king remembers too. He remembered the forgiven guy wronged him, but that the guy had asked for more time to make it right. The king remembers he gave the slave great generosity. And he remembers that the slave chose to respond to this generosity not with love and gratitude, but with greediness.
If someone you forgive uses your mercy as a blank check to do more and more wrong… don’t forget. Take that mercy back.
Forgiveness is never supposed to be power to do harm. It is supposed to be a balm to bring people back together into right relationships.
Forgiveness is not something to do and forget.
And the Bible says no where that it is easy.
We’re told about forgiveness in the Bible from the perspective of the person who forgives, the person who asks for mercy, and the people who witness it. Everywhere, scripture notes… forgiveness is hard.
The prodigal son must reach utter rock bottom before he is willing to admit he has done wrong. He is so stubborn! When he comes back, he comes back about crawling on his belly. He is deeply ashamed. He intends to beg his father to take him in as a slave – not as a son. This year, scientists looked at our brains and our bodies when we are proven wrong. They found that it PHYSICALLY hurts — hurts like being slapped — when we know we’re in the wrong. People avoid admitting their wrongs not just out of pride, but out of fear of the pain, and fear of rejection, and the dual punishment the wronged person and their own bodies will do. When someone actually admits their wrong to you, and asks for forgiveness, they have already suffered and are suffering.
Now you have the power. The upper hand. This person has admitted they are in the wrong. You are in the right. What will you do? The law and common sense says you can take all the revenge and should take all that you’re owed. Sue them for every penny. Burn the relationship to the ground. Tell everyone what a mess up they are. It is your right.
And the Bible says that we are permitted to loosen and bind what we will. You can choose punishment in this situation for the wronged person. You can also choose mercy. You can choose love. You can choose to walk away even without an answer.
The power and right is in your hands. What will you do with it?
Giving it away, forgive- forgo- to give away – means giving up your right to extract vengeance for the wrong committed to you. This is just as hard as asking for forgiveness. This is acting against our nature, and acting against our culture. It is purposefully stepping out of the patterns of the world around us and forging a new way.
Who wants to give up power? Who wants to lower themselves and say – we are equals? Who wants to admit someone did them a horrible wrong, and then say ‘but I am choosing not to get my pound of flesh from them.’
Forgiving, and asking forgiveness, is very hard.
So, too, is witnessing it. Remember that brother of the prodigal son is furious. And often people who watch Jesus forgive sins are incensed. How can he do this? It isn’t just! It is against the balance books! It isn’t fair.
Forgiving isn’t fair. It is mercy. It is unearned favor.
Forgiving is not how the world works.
Forgiving is choosing to live into God’s realm.
Remember, part two of Jesus’ story says rules we apply to others, God will apply to us. What we do on Earth is reflected in heaven. If we demand every penny be paid back to us, God will demand we pay back every penny we owe others – and owe God.
Jesus suggests our debt to others and God is so absurdly large, that we can never pay it back. Instead, we need forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, we should practice forgiveness and mercy.
Because forgiveness is not an easy task, not easily given.
Remembering is what makes forgiveness worth so much.
No where does Jesus say forget – just forgive.