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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Forgive and Forget

A friend of mine posts funny memes on Facebook almost every day. I don't know how he finds them all, but he rarely posts one that doesn't actually make me smile. Some time ago he posted one that contained some "rules for life" that are tongue-in-cheek and pretty funny to me. The first one, however, I thought contained a grain of truth. It said, using a word I won't use here because I don't want to offend anyone, that you should always forgive "your enemy", but then you should also remember the guy's name. The reason that I thought it contained some truth is that I don't believe in "forgive and forget" – at least not all of the time.

Don't get me wrong, I 100% believe in the "forgive" part! Jesus made it very clear that we should forgive people who wrong us, over and over if necessary. I'd say there are two reasons for that: first and foremost, the person who wronged us can see God's forgiveness modeled in us. Second, when we hold unforgiveness in our hearts, it is damaging to us, too. I've heard it said, and I think this is a fantastic analogy, that harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping that the other guy will die! Unforgiveness is toxic; forgiveness is mandatory.

But I would submit that forgiving and forgetting can be like eating healthy and hoping the other guy loses weight! Your forgiveness does not change that person, outside of giving them an opportunity to make a change themselves when they see God's work in you causing you to forgive. But if they don't change, there is every chance they will wrong and hurt you again.

But isn't that what forgiveness is... letting go of past hurts and being open to the person? Trusting them again like you did before? Well, let me frame it this way. Let's say you know someone who has a hot temper and a loaded pistol. Let's say that person aimed their gun at you and shot you. You were badly wounded, went to the hospital, got patched up, and forgave that person for what he did to you. All good so far? You did the right thing!

Months later you run into that person. He has his firearm. He pulls it out and aims it at you. It is loaded. Do you stand there and get shot again? Is that what forgiveness means? This person did not change. The first shooting was not an accident, and the impending second shooting will not be an accident either. What is the purpose of you going to the hospital again? To show the person how holy you are? Well, maybe. Maybe God says to you in your heart, be still. I'm taking care of you, and you need to stand up and be brave, and I'll get the glory in this situation. But to my way of thinking, if that doesn't happen and you just stand there and get shot again, you're kind of stupid. You're probably more useful to God alive than potentially dead, and this guy may have been spending the past few months at the shooting range, making sure he won't have to waste a third bullet on you!

My friend disagrees, and I'm sure he's not the only one. He believes that if you are wronged and you forgive, you should be totally open to being hurt again the same way. Maybe sometimes that is the case. And since I'm not God and I've been wrong before, I'll just say right here and now that my opinion is my opinion only where this is concerned. But Jesus didn't always let people get away with harming Him. Jesus literally came into the world with the express intention of allowing Himself to be brutally murdered one day, but years before that time, an angry crowd (in his own home town of Nazareth!) was trying to throw him off a cliff. It would have been the perfect time to die at the hands of enemies, if that's your intention. Did Jesus let them kill Him? Nope... the Bible says he just walked on through the crowd and left. (You can read it yourself in Luke 4:28-30.)

Did Jesus forgive them? Of course He did! In fact, he even came back to Nazareth later and tried to minister to the people again - it's recorded in Mark 6:1-6. The people basically didn't believe in Him this time either (he healed a few sick, so clearly someone believed), but at least they didn't try to throw him off a cliff this time.

So, two lessons from this. (1) Jesus defended His own life – not with force, essentially with pacifism, but He didn't let them harm Him. (2) This gave Him an opportunity to minister again to the same people later, and some who wouldn't have had a chance to be healed, got healed. (3) Clearly Jesus wasn't afraid to put Himself in harm's way again, going back to a place where he had already been rejected and almost executed!

In my opinion, sometimes there are situations where you forgive, but then you don't get in the same situation again. Domestic violence is often a good example. A woman who is being abused and stays with her attacker often just fuels his behavior, and the abuse gets worse and worse. That woman can forgive him every single night and continue to get injured, until one day she forgives him for the last time in Heaven. Or, she can get out of the dangerous situation, preserve her own health and life, and maybe even try to get him some help. Maybe losing her is what he needs to wake up to the fact that he is ruining his own life by being out of control. I've seen marriages that survive terrible situations, and certainly God is powerful enough to heal a broken marriage. And maybe, just maybe, the solution for a woman in that situation is to stay. But I'd say the default should be to get out and not get killed.

What about someone who is wronged in business? Let's say you go into business with someone. You work through the hard years of getting it off the ground, and eventually you start turning a profit. Everything is looking good for five or six years... and then your business partner drains the accounts and leaves the country, and you have to close up shop. You're ruined. You have to fire people who depended on you. Maybe you even lose your own house. You know you have to forgive that person; it's excruciatingly hard, but you do it.

A few years down the line, your former business partner, who has returned to the country after spending all of the money he stole from the business, comes to you with an idea for a new business. We built one before, he tells you – we can build one again! You know you can't trust this person. Does your forgiveness compel you to go into business with that person again? I would say not.

God may well tell you to "let him have your cloak as well" if they take advantage of you. Or, He may counsel you not to "be unequally yoked with unbelievers". But neither of those actions means that you have or have not forgiven that person. The forgiveness happens in your heart; once you have forgiven, you are then free to make the Godly choice of what action to take next.

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