“Forgive and forget” is kind of a tricky phrase. Many people think that to “forgive and forget” means we have to selectively delete the offense from our memories and pretend it didn’t happen. Obviously, that’s an impossibility, because our brains aren’t hard drives or gig sticks we can just wipe clean, and pretending is just that—pretending.
The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another” (e.g., Matthew 6:14 and Ephesians 4:32). A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–15; 2 John 1:8).
Forgive Because We are Forgiven
Though the Bible doesn’t use the phrase “forgive and forget,” the implied concept is one of continual forgiveness without holding grudges. That is, when you forgive someone, it’s like you’re giving them a clean slate. Why should we give anyone a clean slate? Because God does. He pardons our sins and overlooks everything we do against Him so that we can gain an eternal inheritance. “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7:18)
Throughout Scripture, God leads by example in forgiving us wayward people. Passionately desiring relationship with us, God continual action, as described so eloquently by Isaiah, is that, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to obey God and forgive. The offender may not desire forgiveness and may not ever change, but that doesn’t negate God’s desire that we possess a forgiving spirit (Matthew 5:44). Ideally, the offender will seek reconciliation, but, if not, the one wronged can still make a decision to forgive.
Forgiveness is more about us than the other person
The brilliant Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig has a quote which says, “Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”
Forgiveness, as a particular expression of love, is simple in principle but difficult when we are the ones who need to do the forgiving. None of us go through life without being betrayed at some level. As a result, we all need to learn about forgiveness for our relationships to prosper.
The divine nature of forgiveness is shown in the wonderful fact that it has universal relevance. Forgiveness applies to our personal relationships as much as it does to international relations.
God forgives our sins constantly, so why shouldn’t we do the same? If a friend has hurt me, and I have granted her forgiveness, I can no longer hold the offenses against her. Even though I remember the issue that was so hurtful, I remember it with no weight, no pressure to hang on to it. I try to let it go and move on with life. Yes, it’s hard to do. We really like to bring up old stuff sometimes because that can cause the biggest sting. But bringing up past pain is never helpful to a friendship.
If by “forgive and forget” one means, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life,” then this is a wise and godly course of action. As much as possible, we should forget what is behind and strive toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We should forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave” (Ephesians 4:32). We must not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).
Follow Jesus’ Example
Of course, it is impossible to truly forget sins that have been committed against us. We cannot selectively “delete” events from our memory. The Bible states that God does not “remember” our wickedness (Hebrews 8:12). But God is still all-knowing. God remembers that we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But, having been forgiven, we are positionally (or judicially) justified. Heaven is ours, as if our sin had never occurred. If we belong to Him through faith in Christ, God does not condemn us for our sins (Romans 8:1). In that sense God “forgives and forgets.”
When the disciple Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often am I to forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) He’s not saying that we keep a tally of times we forgive and stop after 490. In Jesus’ time, saying “seventy times seven” implied a number that can’t be counted. Like when you say, “I’ve told you a million times!” You don’t mean it literally, but perhaps you mean that you’ve said it more times than you can count.
We should not keep track of how many times we are wronged or how many times we have forgiven someone who has offended us. Forgiveness is godly, and a forgiving heart overlooks offenses. If God can forgive us every day when He could easily strike us down for sinning against Him, how much more should we forgive others and not dish out constant punishment?