Is To ‘Forgive And Forget’ In The Bible? How NOT to Forget

forgive and forget meaning

If you missed the part 1 of this article, please read it HERE

How NOT to Forget

Giving a person a clean slate is not the same as merely covering up an offense and pretending it’ll get better on its own. As I said earlier, it’s not like we can just hit “delete” on memories—especially painful ones. Change only happens in your heart when you make the decision not to hold a grudge. Grudges will only end up hurting both of you.


Try telling that to the woman in Sudan who has just been raped and forced to watch her son be killed in front of her to forgive and forget, to act as if it never happened. Tell that to the wife who has just found out about her husband’s infidelity – again – and who doesn’t know whether or not she can go on living with him. And tell that to the races of people all across the world who have been oppressed for hundreds of years and “who need to just be patient and things will eventually change”.

To “forgive and forget” is to deny the reality of the wrongdoing. It is actually giving evil a power it does not have.

Miroslav Volf explains clearly why forgiveness is not about forgetting in the sense described above: “Forgiveness names the wrongdoing to let go of it. The thrust of forgiveness is the letting go of it. That’s why you need to name the wrongdoing.” To name the wrongdoing we need to remember it.

In Luke 23:34 we see Jesus uttering probably the most powerful words of forgiveness ever spoken., “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. …” The fact that he utters these words in the moment of his greatest and most unbearable agony shows the power of what true forgiveness really is. He doesn’t say these words after his resurrection when he is about to ascend back to the glory of heaven. He does so when his pain is at its greatest. There is no forgetting in Jesus’ forgiving.

This is where we see the greatest potential for misunderstanding what forgiveness is. If we say that Jesus doesn’t forget when he forgives, we can think he is holding our sin against us. It’s a bit like Ronald Reagan’s oft-used quote, “Trust but verify.” “I forgive you, but…” is not forgiveness at all. Forgiveness has no qualifiers. It is unconditional.

For Jesus, forgiveness is all about the restoration of relationship. And he calls us to follow in his footsteps. Here’s how Martin Luther King explained it:


Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt.


This is how God’s new world order is established. As Miroslav Volf says, forgiveness is a central element of reconciliation.