Grace heals bitter wounds

Forgive and forget? I don’t think so. I’m not even sure where this idea came from. Can anybody really expect the survivors and families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing or the Columbine shootings to forget? Who would dare suggest to the parents of a molested child that they should just forget what was done?

Forgiveness is often equated with forgetfulness because of the “forgive and forget” idea, I think. Forgetting trivializes the offense. It suggests that it doesn’t really matter. And what about justice? Shouldn’t somebody have to pay? Revenge is often tempting. The bad guys need to get their due somehow. Forgetting and pretending it didn’t happen seems horribly wrong.

There is one who does forgive and forget, however. God does.

“Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more,” says the Bible’s New Testament. “Love … holds no record of when it has been wronged.”

When God forgives, he chooses to forget. Not a memory lapse or an erased tape, but he chooses to no longer hold our offenses against us.

This is what forgiveness is all about, really. It’s about choosing to release the guilty without holding the offense they committed against them ever again. There are consequences for both the violator and the victim, of course. Wounds can heal, but the scars become a part of who we are. They remind us to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents. Forgiveness doesn’t require we forget, as if it didn’t happen.

Forgiveness doesn’t require the abandonment of justice, either. There must be accountability and responsibility, and sometimes punishment, if justice is to be served. We must never forget the horror of Columbine or Oklahoma City, or the heinous atrocities committed against 27 very young children in our community recently by one young man. But we must, for our own health and healing, choose to forgive the people who did these things.

Why? If we don’t forgive, we become prisoners of those who’ve inflicted pain on us and on society. Bitterness and anger poison our hearts. We cry out for swift and harsh justice. But then we remember there are things we need to be forgiven for, things that perhaps few people even know about, things that bring shame and guilt and anguish to our souls. And we hope against hope that we will someday be shown mercy and forgiveness, despite a gnawing sense that we are unworthy of it.

Jesus suggested that we would be offered forgiveness in the same way we forgive others: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Deep inside, that frightens us, because we have been so merciless and condemning at times. We don’t really want to face our own standard.

We need to learn to forgive like we yearn to be forgiven, or we become just another victim of hate. We don’t need to forget what they have done; we must do all we can to ensure they never do it again. But I’m afraid we must forgive them. May God have mercy on us all.