Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Forgiving vs. Forgetting

Sometimes people equate forgiving with forgetting and they assume if you don't forget the problem or sin and act like it never happened then you truly have not forgiven. I have pondered this quite a bit, especially after the comments on Day of Atonement post, and here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

Many scriptures come to mind that instruct us on what our heart attitudes and behavior should be towards others, and most of us accept that Christianity requires believers to walk in love and forgiveness. Like this one:

"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:31-32

Beating people over the head with their past faults or sins is not love and if we remember to treat people the way we would want to be treated, our behavior would be self-regulated. But there are also many scriptures that instruct us to not associate with certain kinds of people. Proverbs is full of warnings: do not even go near the door of the adulterous woman, "a companion of fools will suffer harm", and many others. First Corinthians chapter five instructs us not to associate with immoral "so-called" brothers. Jesus had many harsh things to say to people from time to time and we know it was not because he lacked forgiveness. I do not believe these verses contradict each other but that both can be mutually acted out.

Another example of this principle can be seen in 1 Samuel in the story of David, the man with a heart after God. David flees from Saul after learning of Saul's intentions. He even removes his parents out of the country to keep them safe until he says what God will do for him. Saul pursues David in order to kill him. Several incidents occur where Saul seems to repent and acknowledges David is in the right. David does not run and embrace Saul, forgetting all that has happened and returning home with him. Instead he keeps away. It is not because he is bitter and angry and harboring unforgiveness. It is reasonable to suppose that he just did not trust Saul and did not believe it was God's will to place himself at risk. Verbal repentance does not mandate restored trust. When he finally hears of Saul's death, he genuinely mourns. After all danger is past, he inquires of the Lord and returns.

The principle of forgiveness is clear - the forgiveness we receive is directly correlated with the forgiveness we give. But there is not black and white line that helps us to know when it is time to forget and trust. Sometimes all we can do is trust the Lord and pray for wisdom and mercy. One thing is clear, we must not let ourselves be driven by anger, bitterness or vengeance. We each must examine our own hearts and works (Galatians 6:4a) and continue to seek after God and His ways.

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