Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

6 min read

The Bible’s mandate for forgiveness is challenging, radical, and provocative. Put simply, we are instructed to forgive everyone for everything, always. 

But how can you forgive what you can’t forget? You might be challenged to forgive things like lies told about you, or harsh words spoken to you. Maybe you have a family member who continually lets you down or a friend who always makes you feel bad about yourself. 

Forgiveness can be a real ask in all these examples. 

Other times, though, we’ll be faced with the choice to forgive truly outrageous behaviour: betrayals, physical hurts, abuse. 

It’s here that we need to learn the first lesson in forgiving what you can’t forget: God’s perspective is miles away from ours. 

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: A Matter Of Perspective

Heaven’s economy is very different from ours. We live with an inherent value system, attaching more importance to some things and some people than others. God’s view is very different and often totally mind boggling. 

God doesn’t value one person above another, so there’s no scale of betrayal for him. It’s not any better to harm a stranger or to lie to someone you don’t think much of in His books. Everyone is precious in His sight. 

We also place different values on different sins, assuming, for example, that stealing is worse than telling a white lie. Or to think about having an affair is better than actually having one. But again, God sees things differently. 

When it comes to forgiveness, we first have to understand that our perspective is way off, and, ultimately, it’s only God’s view that matters. 

The Biblical Foundation for Forgiveness: 

Throughout scripture, there’s an almost cyclical message around forgiveness. First of all, in multiple books throughout the Bible we are told to forgive as we’re first forgiven. 

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:2

God, in His mercy, gave His only son in payment for our sins. Because of Jesus’ death, God’s great sacrifice, our debts have been paid. His radical, generous act of forgiveness made it possible for us to be reconciled. And, to live as His children, His family, once again. 

So, just as God forgave us, despite our being guilty of sin, we too must forgive others. 

The other part of the scripture’s message on forgiveness, though, is that we must forgive in order for God to forgive us. 

By reconciling with us and empowering us with His Holy Spirit, God made it possible for us to perform supernatural acts of forgiveness. And He expects us to make the most of that. He expects us to forgive others, just as He forgave us. 

What Does the Bible Actually Say About Forgiveness?

You’ll find teachings on forgiveness throughout both the Old and New Testament. From stories like the prodigal son encouraging us to fling our arms wide open and welcome someone home, even if they’ve hurt us, to Jesus’ sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Here are four pivotal quotes about forgiveness from the Bible: 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1:7

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” Isaiah 1: 18 

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18–19

While Paul, Luke, Isaiah, and Micah all place a slightly different emphasis on the subject of forgiveness, all of their writings are rooted in the same truth: we have been forgiven, and so we must forgive. 

The Key To Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

The following piece of advice is tried-and-tested wisdom, but it’s a big ask, especially when you’re still really hurting. 

One of the keys to forgiving what you can’t forget is to pray a blessing over whoever it was that injured you. 

Yes, even when just thinking about them winds you up again or prompts tears. If you can go to God and pray a simple blessing over that person’s health, maybe over their relationships or their work, you will have taken an enormous step towards forgiveness. 

Praying blessings over someone who has hurt you corrects your heart posture. It also connects you to God’s perspective on the situation. 

Even if every fibre of your being resists the thought, try to embrace the discipline of praying for good things over those who have hurt you. The beauty of this discipline is that not only does it bless them, it also blesses you. It turns you towards healing and saves you from lingering in bitterness and pain. 

You’re Never Alone

If you don’t already know the inspiring, moving story of Corrie Ten Boom then make that your next Google search. Her experience of suffering for her faith instilled depths of wisdom that many still turn to today. Here’s one of her profound revelations about forgiveness: 

“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me, and help me to forgive him. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.” 

‘I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness’.

Corrie experienced some of the worst behavior—the persecution of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis, in human history. She saw firsthand how cruel and broken people can be. Along with her family, Corrie is thought to be responsible for saving over 800 Jewish lives before she was imprisoned. Her father and sister, also imprisoned, both died in captivity.

Stories like Corrie’s remind us that our ability to forgive doesn’t depend on the extent of our hurt. It depends entirely on our trust in God, our intimacy with Him, and how deeply we yield ourselves, and our feelings, to His truth. 

As Corrie says, ‘I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness’.

Forgiving what we cannot forget is not up to us or our strength, which is a relief, isn’t it? Being able to forgive is rooted in knowing and trusting God. 

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