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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Forgive and Forget?

If forgetting in time does not follow forgiving, the counselor ought to look for the reason. He may find, for instance, that the offended party has been brooding over the offense in self-pity. Such brooding is decidedly unscriptural and does not fit into the biblical concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness means no longer continuing to dwell on the sin that was forgiven. Forgiveness is the promise not to raise the issue again to the offender, to others, or to himself. Brooding is a violation of the promise made in granting forgiveness.

Now let us turn our attention to problems connected with the process of building a new relationship with the forgiven person. Often questionable motives may be mixed into the reconciliation situation that may cause one to doubt the reality of the repentance or forgiveness. The question may take at least two forms: (1) has there been genuine repentance?; (2) has real forgiveness actually been granted? The counselor may find it necessary to ask such questions directly and pursue them until he reaches an answer.

In counseling the offended one, the counselor may discover that although speaking of forgiveness, the party wishes to make the offender suffer more. He (or she) may seek to achieve this through various subtle means. One frequently used method involves the adoption of a martyr stance. The counselor looks for depression, crying, self-pity, etc. He listens for comments like these: “Even though I try not to, all that I do is to think about John’s sin day after day; I can’t seem to erase it from my mind.” “What did I do to drive Mary into this?” “Why did this happen to me?” “I just keep on thinking about what it must have been like for Fred to go to bed with her!” By such attitudes and statements he causes the supposedly forgiven offender over a period of time to suffer for his sin. These attitudes do not savor of the grace of true Christian forgiveness. God did not act like this when He granted forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting immediately, then, but it does involve a commitment not to raise the issue again. Biblical forgiveness also involves the promise to avoid holding the offense over the offender’s head, the promise to tell no one else about it, and the promise not to dwell on it oneself. As one consciously and prayerfully avoids such practices, he discovers that increasingly it becomes possible to forget. Indeed, there is no other way to forget. Granting forgiveness, then, does not produce instant forgetfulness, but rather entails the promise to adopt attitudes and practices that will lead to forgetting.

On the other hand, forgetting is facilitated, not only by the acts and attitudes of the offended one, but also by the willingness of both parties (and in particular the demonstrated desire of the offender) to establish a new (biblical) relationship that will preclude the same sort of offense in the future. On the part of the forgiven offender this willingness often may take the form of seeking help from the one who was offended. On the part of the other, there must be a willingness to work to establish such a new relationship and to offer to give such help.

When self-pity prevails, a new relationship will not grow. When help in changing is not sought and the old ways and the old relationships are allowed to continue, the parties set themselves up for a reoccurrence of the offense. Mutual effort to discover and solve issues God’s way must be encouraged by the counselor. The only way to cement a new relationship that will enable both parties to forgive and forget past offenses and to avoid and/or handle future failures as well is by means of such effort.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), 64–67.

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