It is clear from the bible that, as believers of Jesus Christ, we must forgive our offenders (Matthew 18:21-35; Colossians 3:13). However, when counselling younger believers, one response that a Christian counselor may receive is: “I can forgive, but I cannot forget.”
The person being counselled may try to justify himself/herself: “Well, the bible doesn’t say that I must forget.”
The bible does say that we must forgive, but are we permitted to ‘not forget’?
Indeed, the bible does not explictly say that we must forget.
However, it seems implied. Concerning forgiveness, the Lord is our role model, and we learn from Hebrews 8:12 (NIV) that when the Lord “forgives our wickedness“, He also “remembers our sins no more“.
When the Lord no longer remembers our sins, it, of course, doesn’t mean that He deliberately undergoes some sort of mental amnesia (otherwise, how can He remain omniscent?). Rather, it means that He no longer holds us against our sins.
Coming back to the issue of ‘forgiving but not forgetting’, I would say that it all depends on what is meant by ‘not forgetting‘.
For instance, I live in an HDB flat (an apartment), and I have had my shoes, that were placed outside the door, stolen.
Now, I can forgive the thief, but that doesn’t mean that I abstain from applying common sense and continue to be careless about placing shoes outside the door.
Similarly, for the case of a rape victim who has been raped by a relative of friend, when she chooses to forgive her perpetuator, it does NOT imply that she should act as if the sin had never happened and to yield to her perpetuator’s demands to spend time alone with him again. Rather, although she forgives him, she should still take precautions like avoiding him and reporting him to the police.
That said, a wise counsellor would clarify with the counselee his/her motive for ‘not forgetting‘.
Is it so that harm would not be repeated (as in the example above)?
Or, is it because the counselee choses to still hold a grudge over the offence?
If it is the latter, the counsellor should remind the counselee Leviticus 19:18 (NIV, emphasis added):
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.“
Also, explain to the counselee that if he/she choses to not let go of the past, not only is his/her forgiveness suspect, but it also makes it almost impossible for him/her to move on in life:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19; NIV; emphasis added)
At that point, some counselees may admit: “But it is very difficult for me to let go..”
Truly, it is difficult to let go emotionally, because as the counsele fumes and fusses over the offence, footholds are established in his/her life that become more entrenched over time:
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27; NIV; emphasis added)
A counselee who wishes to let go, but has difficulty doing so, can be set free through prayer, when the Lord releases His divine power to him/her:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4; NIV; emphasis added)
If you are reading this and would like someone to pray along with you until you are set free from a stronghold unforgiveness, I’d love to pray along with you, so please do not hesitate to reach out to me by clicking the ‘Leave a comment’ link beneath the title, and write “Please contact me” in the ‘Leave a Reply’ box that appears next. God bless you!