FORGIVING IS NOT FORGETTING
by Sam Ashoo
During this week of Lent I will unfold a true story of a wounded friend. If you have not yet read my previous blog posts, please start there.
But what of remembrance? Do I forget? Desmond Tutu in his book No Future without Forgiveness says, “Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.” Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying, “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.”
It seems impossible to forgive a great sin and focus on restoring my personal relationship with the Lord without seeking justice, but it is what we are called to do. It reminds me of the Amish and their forgiveness of a shooter who murdered 10 of their young children in 2007. Surely no one can push through that kind of pain and injustice, and forgive someone that kind of sin without the presence of the Holy Spirit making it possible. Their example shows what it means to forgive without forgetting. The past is not changed. There is still acknowledgment and remembrance of what occurred. But the anger and demand for justice is gone, and the door for reconciliation is revealed. It becomes apparent to me that the Lord knows the price that such pain exacts on our soul. He knows the suffering, the anger, and the effects they have on us. The very thing that is capable of bringing us closer to the Lord is also capable of separating us from Him.
We are commanded to forgive in order to be reconciled with the Lord. In Mathew 5:21, Jesus warns us “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” The admonition against clinging to anger is clear: judgment is rendered on the murderer and also on those who hold anger towards another. The reason is also clear. The anger cleaves me away from the Lord. It steals my mind, it whispers in my ear, it feeds my feelings of superiority and my need to be “right.” It tells me that I am due some form of remuneration for the sin of others, that I am entitled, and it blinds me from the truth that we all sin. The words of Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King are true. Forgiveness is not forgetting. There is a great lesson in forgiveness that must be remembered. The problem with forgetting is not that we may not be able to recall that we have been sinned against. The problem with forgetting is not even that we may allow others to sin against us in a similar way in the future. The problem with forgetting is that we might not remember how damaging the anger and resentment can be to our relationship with the Lord. If we forget, we are prone to repeat, and our salvation is at stake.