Can we really forgive and forget?

Published 7:13 pm Monday, November 30, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By MICHAEL J. BROOKS / Guest Columnist 

Note: This is an opinion column.

I was in utter terror. I couldn’t find it, and she was insistent. I vaguely remembered putting it in a box, but I couldn’t remember where I put the box. It was one of those “I’m-going-to-remind-you-that-you-messed-up-every-day-for-the-rest-of-your-life” moments.

It all started when my wife had knee replacement several weeks ago. It was a good time while she wasn’t driving to get some work done on her car. That’s when they told me they’d be working on the side panels and I should take everything out. So far, so good. But then she drove for the first time in five weeks and couldn’t find the handicapped placard. And for several hours I lived in terror until I remembered where the box was with the placard inside.

As a buddy of mine often says to his wife, “OK. I messed up one time. Are you gonna hold this against me for the rest of my life?”

Well, all in good fun. I think now the incident is forgotten. All I can claim is that the past month has been crazy with surgery, working remotely, care-giving and COVID.

Christians are prone to casually claim “we forgive and forget.” I agree with a number of Bible teachers I’ve heard who say this is impossible. We’ll never forget the nasty things people have done to us, or the thoughtless mistakes they made that hurt them and others, perhaps us. Forgetfulness is a mental issue, not a spiritual issue.

Biblical forgiveness occurs when we treat someone as though they’d not messed up. We choose not to remind them, to shame them or to live out a spirit of revenge.

We all do this with our children, I believe. Our children mess up, but we know they grow from mistakes. We lead them gently toward maturity. Maybe we should treat everybody this way and be less antagonistic.

But the amazing thing about God is that he both forgives and forgets. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For I will forgive their iniquities and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

Does this verse mean that God limits his omniscience–he who knows everything, even the number of hairs on our head, determines that he will forget some things? Or is it a poetic way to explain that he is the God of the second chance who doesn’t constantly remind us that we messed up?

I’m not sure, but I do know we serve a wonderful God, who like an earthy parent, but in a greater way, says to his wayward children, “This doesn’t define you. You can learn and grow and be better. I believe in you.”

God’s mercy should inspire us to seek it, and to live it.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is