Does the Bible really require us to forget the wrong things others have done to us? Let’s take a closer look at the difference between to forget and to remember no more.
What about this matter of forgiving and forgetting? Are we really required to forget the wrong things others have done to us? That’s not what the Bible teaches. Not even God does that. You may have raised your eyebrow in doubt about that statement, but it’s true. The Bible doesn’t say that He forgets our sins. It says that He doesn’t remember them. Although many may think the two are the same thing, they aren’t.
To forget means just that. It means we have no ability to bring to mind the forgotten thing. How could we possibly do that with some of the terrible hurts we’ve suffered in life? It’s not possible. What we can do though is to not remember. As I’ve said, there’s a big difference.
What does it mean to remember? Look at the word itself. It is comprised of two words: “re” and “member.” “Re” is a prefix that means, “to return to a previous condition” or “the repetition of a previous action.” The word “member” means, “one of a group; one that belongs, a part of the body.” So the accurate and literal meaning of the word “remember” is to return something to a previous condition by making it belong to or join again. If I cut off my finger, the doctor may be able to re-member it if I get to him with it in time.
The Bible doesn’t say God forgets our sins. People sometimes talk about the “Sea of Forgetfulness” many have heard mentioned at times, but that phrase is not in the Bible. The idea was taken from Scripture and it is found in Micah 7:19 where it says: “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” That’s probably where the idea of a “Sea of Forgetfulness” comes from, but note that’s not what the Bible says. It says He will separate our sins from us forever. He doesn’t forget but he does remember them no more. In other words, He will forever refuse to join our sins to us or our past guilt to Himself. He will not remember them!
To illustrate the literal use of the word in a positive way, think about what Jesus said at the Last Supper to His disciples. When they partook the meal together, He told them, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25, emphasis added).
What did He mean by that? He meant, “As often as you partake of this communion meal in the future, do it in a way that you are appropriating the reality of your connection to me.” He wasn’t telling believers that when we take communion, we are to think in our minds and pretend that we are there watching His crucifixion. He is telling us to re-member, to affirm by faith that we are inseparably joined to Him and we affirm that reality again and again when we partake of the elements. Again, we are affirming and yes, even experiencing, our union with Him on the cross, in His burial and now in His resurrection life.
So our Father does not remember our sin anymore. Being omniscient means He knows everything so He hasn’t given up His omniscience and forgotten our sins. He simply refuses to ever “member them” to us or to Himself again.
That’s what we are to do when it comes to forgiveness toward others. Do we forgive? Yes, but not because we must. We do it because we have been forgiven and now have the ability and the desire to forgive those who have hurt us.
Do we forget? No, but neither do we “remember.” We release those who have hurt us from all obligation they have toward us and we refuse to join the offense to us again. Don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t literally forgotten about it. We may never forget, but as we walk in ongoing forgiveness the event itself will have less and less emotional impact on us when we think about it. We will come to a place where, although we haven’t forgotten, we don’t feel the pain of the situation anymore because we have been healed.