Have you ever found your thoughts drifting to something you forgot about while praying? I have. I found myself doing that this morning as my mind remembered someone who offended me. I’ve come to realize that forgiving isn’t easy for me, especially when I think someone else is wrong. I may lose sight of what someone said or did but that doesn’t mean I've forgotten or forgiven them. Thinking along this path brought me to the question:
What does it mean to forgive?
I’ve heard it said that, “to forgive means to forget and never remember again; to not condemn a person for a wrong they’ve committed”. But what does it mean to forget? How can I forget when remembering is so easy to do? This morning I allowed myself to drift from prayer to meditation; contemplating the subject of forgiving.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”1
To have the ability to understand, that human thought is incapable of knowing how to do what is right without guidance from God, is truly remarkable. Only God has that ability; to know and do what's right. Understanding that we just don’t know what is right also means that we often don’t know what we’re doing.
How do we tap into the mind of God and forgive others? Well, I understand that I’m not God but when it comes to unforgiveness, I tend to act like a little god. I hold on to those past hurts, offenses and grudges. Why? Because I believe someone needs to be punished for what they said or did to me. I take things personally, very personally! I want vengeance, I want to return the hurt and I want to know you are being punished.
While I was meditating, it occurred to me that before Christ died for us, God knew the kind of rebellious person I would become when I entered the world, but He didn’t tell His Son, “Never mind”. Before the beginning (of creation), God (always) knew what each of us would be like and yet, He made a covenant with mankind to save us from sin and death. Every wrong act of betrayal, every rebellious act of indifference and every lust-craving attempt to satisfy our lives meant that God would have to forgive and forget.
Forgetting is the key to forgiving. How do I forget?
Have you ever misplaced something and couldn’t remember where you left it? I know that’s happened to me more times than I can count. Losing track of or misplacing something or someone is an unconscious act; we’re just not aware. That’s exactly what the thinking is behind the Hebrew definition of the word, forget.
The Hebrew word for forget is shakach (shaw-kakh’ or shaw-kay’-akh), which means, to mislay. In other words, to forget is to become oblivious of something due to the absence of memory or attention. Forgetting is putting something down and having a mindset that says, “I don’t value this at all”, so that I’m not aware of it as I walk away. I don’t typically lose things which are important to me; I value them. Something (or someone) can grab my attention causing me to lose focus and walk away from something I value. When I realize that thing I value is gone, I use my memory to recall where I last left it. I re-trace my steps until I return to that place, and there it is, just where I left it! This is why I appreciate structure in my life.
However when it comes to forgiving, you need to do more than lose focus; you need to mislay what was said or done in a way that you can no longer remember it. You see, we remember because we always go back to that place of offense. We retrace every word and action, bringing back the pain someone caused us.
I remember watching a Three Stooges sketch called Niagara Falls. Every time the phrase, Niagara Falls, was spoken, it served to remind Moe of his quest to find the man who stole his wife. It was the line, “Slowly I turned. Step by step. Inch by inch”, that always preceded a beat down of Curly. That’s what we do in remembering an offense; we turn around and go back, moment by moment, replaying every second of the offending event. We do this because:
- We are unwilling to devalue what happened so we make ourselves unwilling to forget.
- We are unwilling to forget what happened so we refuse to forgive.
- We are unwilling to forgive what happened so we condemn a person to punishment.
Tomorrow, I will begin discussing the steps to forgiving.
- Luke 23:34, NIV
- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
- Unger's Bible Dictionary, By Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, Chicago
- The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA