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Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?

I know I need to forgive my wife because in the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God forgive us “as we forgive those who sin against us.” But how can I forgive and forget?

Forgiveness is our greatest need

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive” (Mere Christianity). It is hard to forgive.

In Jesus’ parable (Matthew 18:21-35), a servant owed a king an unpayable debt. The king wanted him to pay up and told him that if he did not pay, he would imprison him until he could. The servant obviously could not pay, so do you know what the king did? He forgave the debt and let him go. The lesson is clear. God is the king, and we are the servant who owed an unpayable debt. What happened to the debt? The king took the loss; he forgave the debt.

Every one of us can relate to Barabbas. He was the one sitting on death row with Jesus on Good Friday. Sitting in his cell, Barabbas was waiting for crucifixion when he heard the guard’s footsteps. The door opened, and the guard told him the same thing God says to every one of us: “You’re free. Jesus is dying in your place.” Jesus filled your greatest need by forgiving you.

Forgiven people forgive

That forgiven servant in Jesus’ parable found someone that owed him far less by comparison and refused to forgive his debt. The king heard about it, summoned him, had him tortured, and threw him into prison forever. Then Jesus speaks those haunting words: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

When Jesus says to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” he is not conditioning your forgiveness on whether or not you forgive. He is simply making this point: Forgiven people forgive. We struggle to do that sometimes. It might help to understand that there is a huge difference between struggling to forgive and refusing to forgive. Maybe you have a hard time wrapping your heart around what your head already knows.

So how will you get the strength to forgive your wife? Think of how you feel when you hear God say, “You’re free. Jesus has died in your place.” Remember that your wife stands right next to you. Turn to her and say, “You’re free. I forgive you because Jesus forgave me.”

Forgive and forget?

Is it possible to forgive and forget? Does God forgive and forget? God does not forget. Instead, he does something far more powerful. He chooses not to remember (see Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 10:17,18). He chooses not to call it to his mind—ever. The psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). God simply refuses to bring our sins back to his mind; we are forgiven.

It may be impossible to forget the hurt that someone caused you. However, you can functionally forgive and forget. Moved by God’s “forgetful” memory when it comes to your sin, you can choose not to bring your wife’s sin to mind again. You can treat her as though that sin never happened. Far from saying the sin did not hurt, you are showing her what Jesus has done with her sin. He has forgiven it!

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