I got this question from an internet friend, Ciera, and it makes a good post.

Quoted with permission:

I am wondering what your understanding is of forgiveness. Is is more biblical to ‘forgive and forget’…forgiving and acting as though it never happened. Or to forgive and remember and even though you act mostly like it never happened, it’s still there in the back of your memory for future reference if that person messes up again?

God’s the only one who can truly “forget” our past indiscretions. (Although the word “forget” implies a temporal-bound consciousness; another topic altogether.) Humans cannot ever really forget.

Another concern is to forgive those that don’t want our forgiveness.

What do you think?

Join the Conversation


  1. Everyone probably knows the famous quote from Corrie Ten Boom.

    “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and to realize that prisoner was me.”

    Forgiveness and trust are also two different things. I am commanded to forgive those who have sinned against me but the Bible does not say I have to trust them again.

    If you have someone in your church who has stolen money from a business he worked for you can forgive him but you don’t have to put him in charge of the finances.

    God does forgive and forget but for Him ‘forget’ is more of ‘won’t hold it against you’ type thing.

    God can forgive and easily move on but with us it’s more of a process. We may have to forgive someone many times for one sin against us. That’s what ‘taking each thought captive to Christ’ is all about.

    Jesus says to forgive seventy times seven. God is in heaven forgiving us continually. We sin much more against God than anyone here on earth can sin against us. See, if someone here sins against us we can just not have anything to do with them. God doesn’t work that way. Once he enters a relationship He’s in it for good regardless of our actions.

    (end sermon)

  2. Nice sermon, James! I be in agreeance. ❗

    A wise woman (my mom) always told me growing up that you can either become a better person or a bitter person. I have found that when I hold unforgiveness in my heart toward someone, it festers and I begin to become bitter. I have told myself that I don’t want to end up a bitter old woman.

    I have to forgive for MY sake even if they don’t want my forgiveness.

  3. Forgiving is the easy part. While I think forgetting is nearly impossible, it’s ALWAYS impossible when the offended thinks about the loss all the time.

    We’ve all played mind games with ourselves where we try to put a thought out of our minds; where the very act of trying to forget keeps the darned thing in our heads! It’s the same when someone who has wronged you, that while we continue to grieve we cannot forget.

    There’s something very precious about someone who has been offended who literally never thinks about the offense again (not technically “forgotten”, but close); it simply does not hurt them anymore. It’s only possible to truly forget when we give up the right to obsess over lost emotions, money, or possessions.

  4. 😕

    Thanks for some fresh insight on this everyone. I’m glad Rob was willing to post this.

    I think I can be honest here {if not, Rob can always edit it out :!:} I’m stuck in bitterness right now – and anger and sadness. It’s hard because the other person involved not only doesn’t want forgiveness, but believes that she’s done nothing wrong. I know that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter much what was done or said. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

    I know Rob-there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel! 😀

  5. An interesting follow up question is do we have to ‘forgive’ those who haven’t directly wronged us? Am I obligated to actively forgive a child molester, for example who did not directly sin against me? And where does anger come in in regards to forgiveness. Staying on the child molester thing…I’m perfectly okay with them asking God for forgiveness and them receiving it however I’m not inclined to believe that I have to actively love monstrous people. Interesting stuff!

  6. Carl, interesting scenarios. The self-righteous liberal in me wants to say, “Yes, even the worst in society deserve second chances and our forgiveness.” But then the justice-minded conservative in me shouts, “He deserves what he gets and should take responsibility for his actions.”

    I guess it comes down to personal experience. For instance, it’s one thing to speak about grace and mercy when some tragedy hasn’t actually befallen your own. It’s entirely another when it has. But then again, is forgiveness really forgiveness when it’s only fairweather?

  7. Here’s another thought on the monster child molester topic, Carl. Put a face on that monster. A brother, a nephew, a cousin. Someone you already love. Still hard to forgive?

    Like I heard said of King David today on the radio – he was a good man who did some really bad things. If that child molester sincerely asks for forgiveness and Christ into his heart—isn’t he a new creation and no longer who he was?

    These were some thoughts that came to me while I was slurping down my milkshake a little while ago. It’s not always easy is it?

  8. Well, God forgives but he is also just. He also doesn’t reverse consequences when forgiveness is asked.

    God will forgive someone of murder but it doesn’t mean they won’t have to deal with the consequences.

  9. I have someone who was very close to me in college and was a mentor and appeared to be the example of everything that a Christian should be and he ended up molesting foster children (boys) and children he was in contact with throught the Big Brother/Big Sister program and yes, it is extremely hard to forgive. Hence my comment about anger. I realize that forgiveness isn’t a feeling, its an active choice and I choose actively to forgive him everytime I think about it and yet still hate him to the core of my being. I have no love for him. I’m thankful he has a relationship with Christ and that God has forgiven him and am glad that his only punishment will be down here on earth but I tend to feel that those who actually molest children…and I’m not talking about those cases where one accuses another with no evidence and its left up to others to arbitrarily decide…I’m talking about those caught in the act or those cases with irrefutable physical evidence…those people should never see the light of day again. They should be ministered to in prison so that their eternity can be better but they should never be allowed out again. An inordinate percentage of those people get out and re-offend and any and all treatment is largely ineffective. And although God does miraculous things in people’s lives by and large He expects us to control our own sexual appetities, etc with His help. Think of how hard it is to control our own “normal” lusts and then multiply this by that which drives molesters to prey upon children. I just don’t think anyone’s children should have to have their lives potentially ruined by society allowing convicted child molesters to have a “chance” to see if they’ve changed. Sorry about going on and on but this is something I’m passionate about and struggle with…I really hate crime against those too young to protect themselves and I struggle with forgiving this individual, though again I choose to whenever I consciously think about this. I just have a hard time believing that forgiveness also means that I have to not be angry at this person and that I have to “actively” love him. That’s just me.

  10. You should be angry about this sin. God’s anger burns over such sexual sins. He’s destroyed entire cities because the people were corrupt in their sexual urges and acted upon them. I am very angry when I hear such stories. I think the “be angry and sin not” applies here. Do not sin by walking in unforgiveness.

    Love isn’t a feeling or emotion either. Just like forgiveness. Actively forgiving him when you think of him is an act of love toward God for being obedient to forgive. In doing so, you are showing a form of love to this individual. I don’t think you are obligated to feel any “warm fuzzies” here.

    I heard on Oprah, not long ago, that statistically, a man that sexually abuses boys gets a much heavier sentence than one that abuses girls. If you abuse girls you are likely to get a lighter sentence. What the hell!!! That hurt me deeply. They should all be locked away for a very, very long time. IF there is real proof. I know people are incarcanated unfairly, at times.

    Statistically, one out of four girls will be victims of sexual abuse, at some point in their lives. I have four daughters. That scares me but I do not want to live in fear. I plead the blood of Jesus over my daughters daily. I ask God to wrap his canopy of protection about them, that no harm would come to them emotionally, spiritually, physically or mentally. And most importantly of all, I pray that when they begin to make choices of their own, that they won’t step out from under the canopy of God’s protection by stepping outside His will. I hope they will live their lives according to His word because there is safety there. (As an extreme example, if one becomes a prostitute you are very likely to be hurt)

    It is harder to forgive those who pose in our churches as God fearing people, striving to glorify God and they are really very perverse. For example, the BTK monster had everyone fooled and was very involved in church. Of course, he’d been strangling people for years, even entire families, to fulfill his sexual fantasy to watch people suffocate and die. The people’s lives he touched probably really need our prayers to be able to obedient and forgive such a monstrosity. May God be with them and be their help.

    I am not sure if he has even repented. He didn’t seem remorseful. Hell is a long,long time.. I hope for his sake that he has repented and knows the Lord. Thank goodness they just passed a law that won’t allow him to be buried with other veterans.

    Wow, I better stop! I have things to do!!

  11. Good thoughts Jules, thanks! Ultimately I know that I commit a good number of sins that I know better about and should be able to follow God’s laws as easy if not easier than someone struggling with the urges that make them want to hurt children, so I know that I have to forgive because God forgives me for the sins I commit that can be and probably are as hurtful to him as the things that I and society judge as ‘worse’. I just don’t intend to beat myself up for being so hurt and angry about these situations nor do I think it is wrong to demand swift and far reaching justice for serious criminal wrongs against individuals and society.

  12. Wow, some good discussion here. We’re getting into the ethics of the question now. At the risk of going academic on this and being insensitive to the victims (absolutely not my intention!), I’ve often wondered if these sorts of criminals are born that way or are manufactured. Is this a nurture/nature question?

    Coming at the question from my faith background, I have to believe — even in the worst of examples — that no one falls outside of God’s redemptive plan. If it were so, if some monsters are just born broken and incapable of being touched by God’s love, then God is not god.

    But if everyone can be reached by God, doesn’t that mean they can be reached by people? After all, we are made for community. What we do for the least of these, we do for God. In other words, if someone were to reach them before they made such tragic decisions or before they themselves were abused, perhaps they wouldn’t turn into such monsters in the first place?

  13. I still love my brothers and my cousin, even though they have done some monsterous things; one of whom is serving in prison. However, I have a harder time loving my uncles though, who are guilty of the same things. Go fig.

    Black and white; or shades of gray? Logically – since the crimes are the same – shouldn’t my reactions be the same. I mean, I outright despise some of my uncles, to the point of not attending one funeral. My cousin—well, I did write to him for while in prison, but he stopped so I stopped.

    How far does the cycle abuse go back? These things often run right down the line, generation after generation after generation. And each generation grows more and more perverse. We are each responsible for our own actions and reactions…but how much of our perspecive has been muddied by the choices of our parents parents and so on and so forth?

    I daily hope that I was not born “broken”, but sometimes I fear that there is no hope for me. {{and then Rob will come along and leave a comment somewhere on my blog and tell me there is still hope and I feel better!}}

    I wish my mind had a “control+alt+delete” setting – that would make forgiveness sooo much easier. And the moving on afterwards.

    I mean, there are times I cannot shut my mind down…it keeps playing and replaying thoughts in my head sometimes…and no amount of saying Jesus’ name seems to help…and I fear that I’m loosing my ever-loving mind!!!!!!!!!

    I hope I haven’t spilled too much on your blog Rob. I’m not even sure if I maintained my focus in this entry and I’ve reread it twice. Sigh.

    uhm…what happened to your letters at the bottom? U know, the spam protection feature?

  14. I think even the worst of people were helped along the way by someone from some time before. That’s not to say that there isn’t evil but I have to believe that evil can’t just come around and jump on you and make you a monster…if so then where does the idea of free will and choice come in?

    Ciera, I would have a much more difficult time with the issue if it was a family member and I’m sure I’d be much more invested in their lives…but if I had a family member who molested kids (actually I have at least one by marriage) then I’m still erring along the lines that they shouldn’t be allowed to do that again and I’d never trust them around my kids or any kids for that matter. Sorry you are having to go through this…its bad enough for me having to deal with someone I looked up to, can’t imagine having to deal with these issues with family members.

    I’m glad that no one, even the guy I’d like to strangle, is beyond God’s redemption and am glad that there are those who have a heart to minister to people like this. Someone, after all, was instrumental in making them this way. No one wakes up one morning and decides to be a monster. I feel honored to be loved by a God that doesn’t have the same petty feelings I do and has given everything to give even the most heinous person an opportunity to live an eternal life in glory with Him. Cool stuff indeed. And ultimately I look forward to a day when I can look this guy in the eye and see the man that God created and not the man whose behavior I loathe.

  15. And ultimately I look forward to a day when I can look this guy in the eye and see the man that God created and not the man whose behavior I loathe.

    would that day be soon. To see others as they were meant to be, and could be, instead of what they are or have been.

    Do you think this could ever possibly be achieved this side of heaven?


    the entire letter thing is funny though. 😆

  16. Jesus died for all men, that ALL men might be saved.

    Statistically, most of the people that abuse were victims of sexual abuse themselves. They had a teenage boy on doctor Phil one day, and it broke my heart into pieces. When he was two, a female family member abused him, apparently several times. This poor boy was still in diapers and yet the impact of the abuse has broken him. He is a teenager now and he hurt and abused his little sister. His parents are loving good people. They’ve had to kick him out to protect the other children. He’s in therapy, but it’s obvious he is dangerous and the therapy doesn’t seem to be working. Only God himself can deliver this boy and make him healthy again. I pray He does so. I hope someone who knows the Lord can come along and offer him the hope and healing he needs.

    Ciera, I can certainly see why it is much harder for you to forgive your uncles than it is for you to forgive brothers and cousins. Brothers and cousins are peers, but uncles are supposed to be trusted adults.They are supposed to be people you can look up to. They are supposed to be extra special, “safe” people. They should be loving authority figures, modeling good example. It makes perfect sense to me why forgiving them is so difficult for you.

    You are not going crazy either, even though you may feel like you are. I went through a difficult time in my life and I began to lose control of my thoughts. It’s like my thoughts were going too fast for me to keep up with and there seemed to be a lot of them, sometimes at once. It felt maddening and I even began to pace a lot. It got so bad that I had to call in to work several times and I NEVER called in to work! I began to lose the ability to function normally. I wasn’t going crazy, I was suffering from anxiety. Unfortunately, I was unable to go on medication, which I think 3 months or so on something would have really helped me. I did see a Christian counselor and that seemed to really help me. Eventually, I got past that difficult time and I haven’t had those kind of problems since. Life is very, very, very hard and sometimes we do get broken along the way. The good news is there’s always hope and brokeness can be a really good thing that draws us closer to Him. God is in the business of healing and making us whole. Hang in there and may He touch it where it hurts. I think He does blow on our hurts and kisses them like I do my kiddos. Sometimes, when he needs to he pours medicine on them that hurts, but in the long run there is healing.

  17. I think we can catch glimpses of what people were meant to be. The more we hang around others the more warts we’ll see but opening up and loving people allows us to have those moments when we truly see people the way God sees them. And those moments when our guard is down and we are just giving to and loving on others are the moments when they get to see us that way as well. They may sometimes be few and far between but that’s okay, it’ll all be good someday and there really is alot of joy to be had in each day now if you just open up to it and look for it in the simple things.

  18. Nice comments, people. I like Carl’s statement about how opening up (against our natural instincts, I might add) and loving others helps us see them as Christ does.

    Cool thought! I wonder if my closed off heart causes me to view those around me as less than they truly are.

  19. Jules – I’ve never thought of it that way, the differences between my brothers and uncles, I mean.

    And – I’m not going crazy – “Are you sure?” Seriuosly, I’ve never had anyone tell me they were familiar with what I’d described. that alone…brings tears to my eyes 😥 Someone else knows. I did try go see a counselor a couple months ago, but even at his reduced rate [I’m special after all!!!] I can’t afford to go regularly. Sigh.

    Carl, what you said at the end, reminds me of the acronym KISS [Keep It Simple Stupid!]. Quit making it so complicated and just keep it simple. 🙂 Easier said then done sometimes.

  20. Here is an exerpt from Lisa Bevere’s article “Stopping a Fight Before It Gets Out of Hand” that I thought would fit in here, though dealing with more day to day relational issues: “By overlooking an offense, we are like obediant children who say, ‘Father, I know I can trust You with this one. It is too big and painful for me. I refuse to lash back; instead I lay it at Your feet and forgive.’ It is a guesture that declares our royal birthright. For forgiveness imitates the Son of God to a dying earth. To overlook means to look above and choose to see things on a higher level than where the offense was committed. It is to pretend not to notice and extend grace and mercy when you would have rather exercised judgment.”

    I was cut to the heart when I read this, as I haven’t been doing very well when it comes to forgiveness recently.

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