I was relatively new at the church. The secretary told me a youth parent was on the phone. I didn’t really know her, but her children were great.
How the conversation started is fuzzy, but it wasn’t pretty. For five minutes straight in a flat, calm, evil tone – without coming up for air – she said some of the meanest, vile, and offensive things I have ever heard.
And it was all about me.
She told me I was ineffective.
She said I was ill informed.
Iniquitous burning words oozed out like lava on how my adults hated me, they would not follow me, and that I needed to quit.
It was all I could do to not burst into tears on the phone. It all was so random.
And I, the youth pastor who preached love, joy, and forgiveness, had a choice. I could practice what I preach, or retaliate in the pain of hurt, anger, confusion, and unforgiveness.
I find it interesting people focus on the importance of forgiveness when they are in the wrong and need it given to them. However, the same people – who were so passionate about forgiveness when wronged – can hold a grudge for a long, long time.
I didn’t want that kind of spiritual dualism in my life.
I needed to focus on forgiveness. But she hadn’t apologized. And she wasn’t sorry. If I didn’t begin to attempt forgiveness, bitterness would set in. Was I going to remember what she had done, or try and forget it?
Psalm 25:7 says, “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.”
At first glance this verse almost contradicts itself. It says don’t remember, but yet remember. To our modern Western thought that’s gibberish. But the Bible was written in the Hebraic culture and thought of the day. We need to understand it in the times it was written.
In English, to remember is to recall information. To forget is to be unable to do so.
In Hebraic thought, to remember implies an action.
The Bible tells us God remembered Noah on the boat, and remembered Hannah when he gave her Samuel. When He remembered them He blessed them.
When God remembers sin, negative consequences occur. Jeremiah 14:10 says, “This is what the Lord says about this people: “They greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; he will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.”
Again “to remember” is an action, not just a thought process. The same thing goes for “not remembering”.
Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am he who blots outyour transgressions, for my own sake,and remembers your sins no more.”
“To forget” in Hebraic thought is different than “to not remember”.
To forget means to ignore, neglect, or disregard something or someone. In the Old Testament, the word forget is almost never paired with sin. That is reserved for “to not remember”.
The Hebraic term “to forget” is to intentionally blow off something, like God and His ways.
Deuteronomy 4:23 says, “Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden.”
The Israelites in the dessert continually “forgot” God’s laws. Does this mean they genuinely couldn’t recall what he said on the mountain with the smoke, loud noises, and fire?
Not on your life.
That’s not an experience a person would forget.
When we “forget” God, it doesn’t mean we don’t know what is right and wrong. It is an act of the will to defy Him and do what we want. That’s what the Israelites did, and it is what we do today.
In spite of the saying, to forgive does not mean to forget. Some things are much too horrible for that. We don’t always have to restore a relationship. Some relationships are abusive and should not be restored.
But if we want God to “not remember” our sins, we need to “not remember” sins done to us.
This is forgiveness. When people “forget” to treat others the way God wants them to, we should not seek revenge through physical, emotional, or social “punishment”.
It took me a while to get over that phone call. That woman who called? Her marriage had just collapsed. I didn’t know that at the time – I barely knew her at all.
She never apologized.
Knowing that “hurting people hurt people”, and finding out her situation a few days later made it easier for me to take baby steps on the road to “not remembering”.
I’m glad forgiveness is not a feeling. I didn’t feel like forgiving her.
Forgiveness is not an emotion. I had a lot of other, stronger emotions to deal with at the time.
Forgiveness is an act of the will.
It is “not remembering” to treat them differently.
It is “not remembering” to harbor the pain, embarrassment, or wrong in our lives that brings a hardness to our hearts.
Forgiveness is what God wants us to do because it sets us free from bitterness.
God wants us to forgive because it is what He has done for us.
When we make room for forgiveness, we ultimately make room for love to grow again. It helps to remember we all are sinners, and we all have wronged people in one way or another.
To accept forgiveness, but not offer it, is “to forget” what God has done for us.
It is selfish.
Forgiveness is an act of faith, and living out the knowledge that you have been forgiven. If we take forgiveness from God, we must also dish it out ourselves.