Does the Bible say to forgive and forget?

"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 Bible doesn't use the phrase "forgive and forget," but 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)

Follow Jesus' Example

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.

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?

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.

One night, my boyfriend and I were goofing off with our church group in the gym when he took me aside to talk to me. Before I knew it, he had left without a real explanation as to why, leaving me with people I didn't really know that well. When he didn't return for the whole night, I became miserable that he had abandoned me and didn't tell me why he was leaving. I could barely return to socializing with the others.

I moped for the rest of the festivities. When I got home, my boyfriend was waiting for me outside and apologized. Even though I was hurt and confused, I told him that I forgave him, but I didn't really mean it. I tried to slap on an amnesia Band-Aid in hopes that it would just go away.

Soon, the black mark on my heart was visible again. The amnesia Band-Aid was insufficient for this gaping wound that had developed as I stewed over all the times he had hurt me. Sharp memories bled through until I flinched from flashbacks or balked at suggestions of another game night. I shut out my friends when they asked what was wrong, then convinced myself that they'd deserted me.

Finding True Healing

Real healing can only come with true openness to release the person who has wronged us. We must throw out all vengeful feelings and bitterness, allowing our hearts to soften toward them with honest forgiveness. In doing so, we become free to love others fully and reap heavenly rewards (Ephesians 4:32; 2 John 1:8).

It hurts to make an attempt at incomplete forgiveness. Trust me, I know. It seems silly now, and I realize it took far too long, but in the end, I did forgive my boyfriend for leaving me that night. The memories are still there and still hurt, but I don't hold it against him anymore.

Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." God wants all His children to forgive each other, just as He has forgiven us through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. He treats us as though we never sinned at all and doesn't hold our sins against us. So, in a sense, He "forgives and forgets."

In the same way, to truly forgive someone, we need to act as though they never hurt us in the first place. Yes, we still remember the offense, and yes, we can learn from it, but to truly forgive, we treat the person as though it never happened.

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Golden Iris works part-time and serves as an intern at The Written World Bookstore. When she's not working, she likes to read, play phone games, and watch NCIS with her parents. Being a happy college graduate, she anticipates the day when she can pursue further education.