Should I Forgive And Forget?

Hello, dear friends! We are entering a busy season. I pray that you are able to find God’s peace even in the midst of your circumstances. November is the perfect month to nurture a spirit of gratitude. I am thankful for this community that is so wise and loving.

Today’s Question: Can you help? I maintain that we are to remember what people have done to us so that we learn and protect ourselves but some people in my Bible study are trying to convince me that in Hebrews 8: 11-12, because we have the Lord within us we also have his power to forget past sins. I don't think this is wise especially when people aren't working on their sins, for me it just opens me to another painful episode. I have worked very hard to institute boundaries and express displeasure over ill-treatment and to now hear this teaching, it is counterproductive to me. Do you have any insights for me? Thank you.

Susan’s Response: I am so sorry you are feeling pressured by those who are called to love and support you to forget the wrongs that have been done to you. It is so important to seek truth and decide for yourself what the heart of God is really saying. I hope I can provide some clarity and thoughts for you to consider as you seek God’s will and His heart in this matter. 

There is no doubt that forgiveness is an act of obedience to God. As believers, God instructs us to let go of wrongs and turn them over to Him for our benefit. Remember it is for our benefit that he calls us to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” -Ephesians 4:31-32. Bitterness destroys. He wants us to live in alignment with who we are in Christ. For these reasons, you are urged to choose forgiveness. Nowhere in the Bible are we urged to forget.

We might consider two types of forgiveness. Decisional forgiveness involves making a conscious choice and undergoing a process in order to accept the impact and harm someone else’s actions have caused. In a sense, you are enduring the cost of someone else’s sin without any retaliatory action and trusting God to make all things right in His time. This is the example Christ gave us on the cross. Yet it does not mean you should keep enduring harm. (Proverbs 22:3)

Emotional forgiveness is the work of replacing negative emotions toward the person who has wronged you with positive ones which are created out of a repaired relationship, rebuilt trust, and a new pattern of behavior. This is a biological response to restoration, not merely a decision. Even so, when we are no longer emotionally reactive toward memories, our minds can still remember.

I believe God urges us toward decisional forgiveness. Emotional forgiveness, or the rebuilding of trust, can happen when amends are made and restitution has happened in the relationship. This allows the body to relax and put aside old memories and focus more on memories the new relationship patterns have created. 

When we try or others try to force emotional forgiveness, several negative results may occur. The results are likely to be prolonged or continuation of abuse, guilt and shame, feelings of helplessness, revictimization, isolation, and social distancing.

The body remembers even when you’d rather forget. As human beings, our bodies are hardwired for survival and safety. This is God’s design. Humans were not created to forget what could be harmful. 

Because sin is a part of our lives, our bodies carry the effects. Science reveals that our bodies absorb the effects of trauma. Trauma is shown to get encoded into our DNA and gets passed down to our children. Not surprisingly, the Bible speaks about the generational effects of sin in Exodus 20:5. Unresolved issues get handed down from generation to generation. 

There are several verses that state the Lord will remember our sins no more. In addition to Hebrews 8:11-12, Isaiah 43:25 and Jeremiah 31:34 also speak of God no longer remembering the sin of believers. So what does this mean? Does it mean if you really have a heart that is occupied by the Holy Spirit, you will have the power to forget wrongs as well?

I want to take a closer look at the word remember. When scripture notes that God remembers, it is followed by an active response. In Genesis 8, God remembered Noah and all that were with him; God acted to move the wind and closed the heavens so that the waters subsided. He took action for the sake of Noah’s welfare. The same is true in Genesis 30:22 when God remembered Rachel and opened her womb. There are many Old Testament examples of the active form of remembering for the sake of God’s people.

So what does it mean when God says He will not remember? Does an all-knowing God actually forget? In scripture when God remembered, He acted. When God promised not to remember, He wasn’t saying He would no longer have memory of our sins. He was saying that because of the saving work of His son, Jesus, He now acts based on that truth for believers. We no longer live under the law where we are trying to create external cleansing through sacrifice. Under the new covenant, we are internally cleansed through the saving and sacrificial work of Christ once and for all. Because it is finished, God does not need to remember our sins; He already acted on our behalf.

When God thinks of His believers, He sees us through the beautiful and loving work of Christ on the cross, with our sins wiped clean. God chooses to put our wrongs and imperfections out of his mind and yet He remains omnipotent.

Only The God of Perfection (2 Samuel 22:21) deserves our full trust. Human beings are imperfect by nature. Even though the work of changing believers' hearts is already completed forever, we also live on earth as though we are not yet fully changed. We are living in the “already not yet”. There will come a time when all things are made new and peace prevails. Until then, I don’t believe it is wise or truly possible to forget what has brought harm.

To read more on the topic of why it is important not to forget even when you have forgiven, click here. 

Be Well!

Beloved Reader, what insights do you have? Can we and should we forget the wrongs that have been done against us by our loved ones?

22 Comments

  1. mardi on November 2, 2023 at 9:17 am

    I have been taught that “does not remember” means “thinks less about…. So God does not wipe our forgiven sins out of consciousness….They just don’t rule and reign in His mind ….and therefore should not in ours either. He remembers them forgiven! When we forgive, the thoughts of the sin are minimized, but never totally forgotten, because we need to remember enough NOT to repeat them!

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:39 am

      Thanks for your comment, Mardi! Yes, it is important to remember so that we don’t allow ourselves to be hurt again and again if true repentance has not taken place.

  2. Julie on November 2, 2023 at 9:29 am

    Leslie – thank you for articulating on the word remember as it relates to God & our sins. A pet peeve of mine has always been when people say that God forgets our sins. Indeed, that is NOT what scripture says. God says He remembers our sins no more (Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12) Our God does not forget, as if He has 1/2 a mind. No. He chooses to remember not. How much more beautiful is that?!

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:40 am

      The grace and mercy of our Lord is amazingly beautiful, Julie! Thank you for your post.

  3. Kat on November 2, 2023 at 10:00 am

    We can, like God, KNOW that a sin occurred, while choosing not to repeatedly recall and relive it, for our own sake and that of others. As Julie pointed out, we use the knowledge of the harmful behavior to protect ourselves and others, but we purposefully choose to turn the outcome over to God (and perhaps earthly authorities), to resolve, rather than carrying that burden on our shoulders and conscience.

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:41 am

      Thank you, Kat! Our God is so good to take the burden off of our shoulders! He can be trusted.

      • Moon Beam on November 8, 2023 at 3:04 am

        I think it is important to remember that Hebrews was written to the Hebrews in their time and circumstances. It was not written to an abused woman in 2023. Your Bible study group was attempting to dismiss and control you. They are colluding with your abuser and in their own way, spiritually abusing you. They don’t seem like a group who understand your situation, but are happy to be judgemental And self righteous. Find a safer group of people.

  4. Tamara on November 2, 2023 at 10:00 am

    What about the verse that says “Love keeps no record of wrongs” – I think many people who are married to a narcissist or someone who is emotionally abusive are told to write down the things that happen to you and what he /she does or says that is bad and “keep a record” because they twist and distort reality and if you ever come to a place where you are defending yourself in court it is good to have record of the things he has done and patterns of behaviors – but there is a lot of conflict for a believer in this area… what about this???

    • Caroline Abbott on November 6, 2023 at 10:57 am

      I believe when you are dealing with a narcissist, keeping a record for future court is absolutely necessary. In a marriage like this, there is actually no love. The narcissist cannot love, and the partner is just trying to survive.

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:47 am

      Great question, Tamara! This was discussed in a previous blog. You can read that here: https://leslievernick.com/blog/is-it-wrong-to-keep-a-record-of-wrongsguest-blog/ I think you find it helpful.
      When we are talking about normative sin, it is not helpful to keep a record of all wrongs. However with persistent and covert wrongs, it can be a necessary in order to keep your own sanity and safety.

    • Liz hyde on November 12, 2023 at 12:38 am

      Liked your comment

  5. Julie on November 2, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you on the article of forgiveness. I know we are suppose to forgive and I have chosen to forgive my husband of an act he committed against me. My question is what do you do about someone who denies the truth and continues to lie about their actions?

    • Hope on November 3, 2023 at 1:21 am

      One can’t really have a genuine relationship with someone who continues to lie and deny the truth. Fellowship and trust are broken and can only be restored through repentance and repair.

    • Jo Gravis on November 3, 2023 at 10:35 am

      I completely understand your dilemma. I spoke with a Christian counselor years ago when first encountering this type of situation. He shared this verse with me,
      Matthew 7:6 ESV
      “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

      I was stunned when he said it. It seemed harsh, even unforgiving. But he explained that God doesn’t expect us to continually put ourselves in harms way with those in which we are in close relationships. I really appreciate how Susan’s answer made the distinction between decisional forgiveness & emotional forgiveness. In Matt.7, it starts out discussing judging others …and is often misquoted & misapplied. God wants us to use wisdom. Be wise as a serpent yet gentle as a dove. That is not an easy task. You can decide to forgive someone yet recognize that that person refuses to change. You can’t forget what is still happening. The denial reveals their current heart. Emotional forgiveness is not a one-sided action…it takes both involved to be honest and willing to rebuild what has been damaged. If the other person wants to gloss over what happened or act like it never happened then how can y’all learn and grow from it? There are definitive moments in my life where I was wrong and my anger caused such damage. My heart was so broken before my God and it serves as a reminder each time I get angry. That’s what repentance is about. It helps me remember to not react but take the time to let God walk with me thru whatever is causing my anger….how to be angry and sin not. But that is my choice….and no one can choose that for me. You can’t choose for the other person. However if this person hasn’t experienced true repentance over this then odds are they will continue to repeat it. It is wise for you to be aware of this and not forget. Of course I still struggle and when I slip I am willing to own it fully. Forgiveness isn’t a license to keep sinning. We all struggle with sin. But that’s not an excuse to behave however we choose and callously throw forgive & forget in someone’s face, especially the one who has been hurt. One saying I tell my daughters is “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge “! I know walking thru relationships can feel like a minefield most days, especially destructive ones. I’m praying you find peace. I would encourage you to dig into God’s Word and see how He reacts to people who refuse to repent, to acknowledge, or to grow in their own walk. People, like in your Bible study, may mean well but truly don’t understand the character of God. “Boundaries with toxic, abusive people are not only a good idea but God’s idea”, Lysa Terkquerst’s saying! I would also encourage you to read her book, Good Boundaries & Goodbyes.

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:51 am

      Julie, we are encouraged to forgive for our own benefit, so that we don’t harbor festering bitterness. Bitterness is destructive to the one who holds on to it. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do if your husband chooses to be in denial of reality. But you may decide that you won’t have a close relationship with someone who lies to you.

  6. Maria on November 2, 2023 at 9:39 pm

    The people this person’s bible study probably subscribe to the “forgive and forget” adage as though it was a verse or mandate in the bible.. This is just as misleading as “follow your heart”. From a basic and practical standpoint, why would we ever encourage people to forget lessons they have been taught or learned? ( how to spell, how to multiply, etc.). You don’t have to convince others that your viewpoint is right, nor do you have to acquiesce to theirs. They haven’t been through what you have experienced. God has allowed you to develop wisdom insight through your trials. I don’t think he wants you to forget lessons learned.

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:52 am

      Thank you, Maria! Good points!

  7. A.M. on November 3, 2023 at 11:39 am

    Would someone who God actually listens to your prayers please, please pray for Him to help my mom? She loves Jesus and she loves like Jesus, and her life’s horrible.

    I’m sorry this comment is so long. If you don’t have time to read it, please just pray for God to truly heal A.M.’s mom in this life.

    She has serious health problems that have kept her exhausted and in pain every day for 10 years, the last 5 years have been even worse, the last month has been even worse, and right now is even worse than that.

    She put her whole life into loving and caring for my dad and all of us kids, and it’s ultimately brought her nothing but heartache. My dad doesn’t care at all about what she’s going through. He comes to her when he needs something, but otherwise ignores her, and if we mention her pain, he walks away, tunes us out, cuts us off, or gets angry. He hasn’t asked how she’s doing once since I told him things had gotten even worse. I guess after making his co-workers and friends think he’s a nice, caring guy, he doesn’t have any energy left to pretend he has a heart with his wife. Last year, when my brother got her really sick, on top of all her other health problems, Dad didn’t once ask how she was doing. He did ask her when dinner was ready. Yes, she struggled through cooking when she shouldn’t have had to get out of bed so we could all eat. My brothers don’t care about her. My brothers and dad have been telling lies about her behind her back for years. She hasn’t had enough time to herself to be able to have any friends since she married Dad. I’ve lost count of how many health professionals we’ve reached out to.

    No one cares. No one helps. Everyone in her life makes it worse, including paid healthcare professionals. She calls out to God and He doesn’t answer.

    Her suffering just gets worse and worse, no matter what she does to try to heal. No matter how she calls out to Jesus. If there’s anybody He does listen to, please, please ask Him to listen to her. Ask Him to take away her pain, heal her, bring real good into her life, give her a chance to actually have a life. Please, she’s such a kind, sweet person. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who actually loves like the Bible says to. Someone out there has to care!

    And if you don’t care, please just say nothing. Please don’t make it worse by saying or praying something about God giving her patience or endurance in her suffering. She’s already got plenty of patience and endurance and perseverance. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t still believe in Him or love her so-called “family” after all she’s been through and is going through.

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 9:58 am

      Father God, I lift up A.M’s mom to you. You know what she truly needs. Help her to know that she is seen, known and valued. Help her to steward her one life well and to care for herself with compassion and wisdom. Heal her from deep within. Pour Your Spirit over her and bind up her wounds. Amen.

  8. Sunflower on November 5, 2023 at 12:00 pm

    Dealing with 40 years of him using porn, lying, etc. He once suggested that we start over and forget about what happened. It sounded appealing, but then I realized it was a bad idea. He has never apologized or made amends. I’m trying to forgive him, not because I want to, but because I’m commanded to. Intrusive thoughts keep coming back and are still so hurtful. Things he did and said. How do I know when I have truly forgiven?

    • Susan K on November 7, 2023 at 11:56 am

      Forgiveness is a process, Sunflower. Each time an intrusive thought enters your mind, choose to give it to the Lord. We bear the cost of others’ sins and that is hard. Make sure you are not causing more hurt by ruminating on what was said and done. Those thoughts will keep you stuck. Your body won’t be able to fully let it go until it feels safe or a repair has been made in the relationship.

Leave a Comment





Ask Your Question

Have a blog question you'd like to submit?

Read More

Mother longs for better relationship with adult daughter

Good Monday Friends, I have a new grandbaby. Horray! Her name is Leilani Capri and she was born October 1. I’m heading out to see her on Saturday. I am so blessed. I can’t wait to meet her. For those of you who are not on my mailing list, I also want to invite you…

Read More...

What’s Wrong With Sacrificially Helping Others?

Morning friend, I am cooking and hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. How about you? My adult children are also bringing food. My granddaughters will set the table. Everyone helps clean up. I don’t do it all. I don’t want to do it all. We’re about to enter into a season where sometimes we can get…

Read More...

How can I make some changes in my life? I always fail.

Did Christmas pass by us already? It seems like just last week it was Thanksgiving. Sorry I didn’t write a blog last Monday but the week crept up on me so fast I totally forgot. For all of us who spend some time making New Year’s Resolutions, I thought I’d answer a reader’s question about…

Read More...