Forgiving and Forgetting

How many times have we heard the phrase “forgive and forget” used together.  We talk about the need to not only forgive but also forget.  While there is some degree of truth in this thought we sometimes miss the point.  The thought of forgiveness and forgetting is based in our view of God.  We read Scripture such as Jeremiah 31:34 which says, “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’  because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, declares the Lord.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  We read this and other Scripture and determine in our minds that when God forgets something the word means the same as it does in our culture today.

Consider these usages of the word in Scripture.  Genesis 8:1, “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and He sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.”  Did this mean Noah had slipped the mind of God?  In Exodus 2:24-25 it says, “God heard their groaning and he remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”  Again we ask the question, “Had Israel slipped the mind of God?”  When discussing the last supper Jesus said we were to do this in remembrance of Him.  What does this term mean when used in reference to God?  When Scripture uses this term in connection with God it is referring to God renewing relationship.  When Jesus said we were to do this in remembrance of Him, He is showing our need to renew our relationship that exists through the cross.

When I remember something in our usage of the term today it has to do with our ability to recall an event.  When the term is used in a Scriptural sense it has to do with renewing of relationship, whatever that relationship might be.  When God forgives sin he forgets or refuses to renew relationship with that sin.  God knows our sins, even those he has forgiven, but God refuses to relate to us according to our sins if those sins have been forgiven.

When we forgive and forget the sin our brother has committed against us it doesn’t mean we can no longer recall the sin.  Our forgiving and forgetting means we will no longer build relationship with our brother based on the things he has done to us in the past.  If we forgive him we no longer hold him accountable for those things. Our future relationship is not bound by the results and standards of his past actions. If I truly have forgiven him what he has done can’t enter into the picture.  At the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean I can erase these events from my mind.

We ought all strive to forgive and forget.  It is important we understand this concept of Biblical forgetting.  My past may well continue to be a consultant in my life.  The important thing is that it not be a dictator because of the past actions of others who have committed sin against me.  I invite you to think on these things.


8 Responses to Forgiving and Forgetting

  1. Tim Archer says:

    I love the imagery from Ps 103 of God removing our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” Seems like that could be a good goal to aim for, separating what someone has done from the person.

    I liked the contrast you made between our past being a consultant or a dictator.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Tim, thanks for the kind words.

  3. Wayne McDaniel says:


    In 2001, a childhood friend and brother in Christ fwd a tape of a lesson presented in 1997 by an older brother at a large church of Christ in Nashville. The lesson is the best I have heard about forgiveness, and in it he passed along an insight from a sister who had wrestled to forgive a horrible sin against her. The insight was this: “Forgiveness is a journey of many steps.”

    In light of the fact that all of us commit some of the same sins more than a few times, it should be clear the same is true about forgiving others — being changed is a journey of many steps. Even children understand that some things are heavier than others. Instead of speaking heavy burdens for others to bear, let us practice 1 John 5:16. Opening our hearts to ask for another changes us as well.

  4. Royce says:

    To forgive is to treat the offender as if you have forgiven him. To forget is to treat him as if you have forgotten. Love keeps no record of wrongs. We can’t erase the human memory but we can resist mulling over a past infraction, a failing of character, or a grave offence by someone we love where trust was broken.

    Forgiveness is always right and to not forgive is always wrong. We are to forgive as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us. That would be before we asked for it, freely, and without a string of conditions. God does not wait to see how we will perform before he forgives, He already knows..


  5. Wayne and Royce, thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Dennis says:

    Good thoughts Dell. My perspective is that we should always choose the response to someone that will most likely cause their spiritual growth. If we forgive but don’t choose to “forget” then we sabotage the potential for a healthy and spiritually beneficial relationship. We should treat the people based upon what action will most likely lead to their personal growth. God Bless, Dennis

  7. Thanks Dennis for your thoughts. I hope all is well in Texas.

  8. Guy says:

    Dell, can you give a real life example of what this ideal looks like in real life? I am only asking this because I am having severe struggles with my CPTSD and the subconscious memories of the past; which I would stop if I knew how.

    If you need a better understanding of what I am talking about, see my blog at


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