Mark 1: 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
I have often heard the old saying “forgive and forget,” sometimes with slight variations. Intrigued by that quote, I went on a biblical search to get a better understanding of what it means to forgive and what it means to forget.
For those who like statistics, I found the word “forgive” mentioned 116 times, per the NIV. The word first appears in the Old Testament in Genesis 50:17 where Joseph’s brothers are told to go to Egypt and ask Joseph if he will forgive them. I would guess that this must have been on Joseph’s mind for some time too, because when his brothers finally asked him, Joseph wept. From this I gather that forgiveness is not just something that we say, but we feel and long for, both for ourselves and for those who have harmed us, or we have harmed. – The vast majority of the other appearances of the word “forgive” in the Old Testament asks God for forgiveness or describes what we need to do to gain God’s forgiveness.
In the New Testament, the word first shows in Mark 1:4 (quoted above). Forgiveness here is not accomplished by what we can do to earn it, but by what God does. In the rest of the New Testament, including the words of Jesus, forgiveness is talked about in themes of how much God forgives and how important it is that we forgive each other.
Matthew 6: 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
So with forgiving being such a central theme in the bible, it must therefore be important for us to practice. – What then about forgetting? If we can bring ourselves to forgive someone, can we also bring ourselves to forget the transgression? I personally believe that the answer to that question only lies deep within our individual hearts.
Biblically, the answer to forgetting is not that easy to pin down. Some scriptures, like Deuteronomy 4:9 tell us not to forget what has been experienced or seen. (Although in context it has more to do with not forgetting what God has done.) There are also passages that tell us plainly to forget, like Isaiah 43:18, but only because God is about to do something new. – The reason that I think it is only answered deep within our own hearts has to do with how people will talk about forgiving someone and then forgetting the issue. Often though you can tell by the way they remember and describe the event that they really have not forgotten or forgiven.
A lesson that I learned about forgiving and forgetting came from a documentary of an animal that some say never forgets – the elephant. The story of this particular elephant started when it was captured along with several others of its kind; then shipped to the United States to perform in a roaming circus. I don’t remember how long the circus had these elephants, but it was for a good number of years. And like many of these smaller circus’, due to finances, they were forced to shut down.
The elephant in this documentary was then shipped alone to a small zoo. There it stayed for over twenty years, always tethered by a large chain on one of its rear legs, and carefully cared for by the same man all of that time. During that twenty-year period it never saw, never heard, and never smelled another elephant.
Again finances came into play; that and the fact that the elephant was getting older. The zoo felt it best to send the elephant off to a special place in Florida. This is a large area of land dedicated to allowing older elephants live out their lives in a place similar to their native environment. They have freedom to roam the hundreds of acres through lakes and grasslands and trees. In this land there are no predators, and the elephants needs are well met.
I watched as the elephant was brought to this compound by the man who had taken care of her for years. She was placed for short time in a holding cell, checked out by a veterinarian, and bathed for the last time by her keeper. – He was the one who got to take her ankle chain off and release her. He made a tearful comment to the camera that he was not the one who had put it on, but he was sure proud to be the one to take it off. She would never wear it again.
The compound being new, there was only one other elephant there before her, and their meeting was something to see. Records showed that the two elephants had been in that circus together until it disbanded. Yet after not seeing each other for all of those years, they immediately embraced with their trunks through the bars and, once reunited, became inseparable. – Maybe elephants don’t ever forget. But do they forgive?
After a long absence the elephant’s former keeper came to see her and she not only remembered him, she nuzzled him. – Who really knows what the elephant originally thought of her captor, she could have harbored hatred. Yet there had to be a certain amount of forgiveness each day in order to survive captivity. It may be that elephants don’t easily forget, but they also seem to be quite good at forgiving.
I wonder if those who pretend to forgive yet in reality never forget are a lot like that elephant in the zoo. They seem to have a chain around them that locks them to their past; they don’t only lack freedom now, they cannot even perceive it. – Perhaps if we consider Christ as our keeper we can see the folly of our ways. For Christ is not the one who put us in our chains; we do that on our own, but he is the one who sets us free by helping us to truly forgive.
It is my hope that this is something we do not forget.
Blessings, Pastor Randy.
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
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