“I can forgive, but I can never forget.” Have you ever said that? Or worse, had it said to you? Sadly, I’ve had it said to me, and I realised I wasn’t receiving forgiveness at all. When someone stores away a perceived failing of yours, ready to be brought out the next time you upset them, that’s not forgiveness. It makes it impossible to move on. Ask anyone who’s hurt their partner for example. Unless the hurt partner is able to let it go completely, the relationship is doomed. I think we all understand that, but forgiving someone is one of the most difficult things to do.

Jesus has set an example of forgiveness. When he was arrested he was treated cruelly by soldiers, so bad that I won’t mention details here. His cruel treatment ended at the cross where, while he was being crucified, soldiers gambled for the clothes they’d taken off him. Jesus looked at them. Another man would have cursed them, but Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (1) Could you do that? Not me. I’d have nothing but thoughts of hatred towards them, but not Jesus. He loved them and forgave them. It transformed their lives, even though they didn’t know it at the time. Having heard his words and watched his dignity in death, these men familiar with death, realised that Jesus was different to anyone they’d met before. Matthew’s gospel tells us, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (2) The forgiveness of Jesus at the cross led to the forgiveness of their sins and the giving of eternal life, as they recognised the truth of who he really was. He wasn’t the criminal they’d been told about, he was the Son of God.

God says, in the book of Hebrews, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (3) A perfect God can’t forget; he has a perfect memory and perfect recall. God’s way of forgiving is to make a conscious decision not to remember our sins. That’s what Jesus prayed for the soldiers. He was asking his Father to not remember their sin, to treat it as if it had never happened. That’s true forgiveness. It’s the forgiveness Jesus showed, and it’s the only kind of forgiveness that can truly heal a broken relationship.

Jesus, of course, knows how difficult it is for us to forgive, and he understood it would be an ongoing process. He was once asked, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (4) Jesus replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (5) In other words, keep doing it. If someone has hurt you really badly, just keep forgiving. It’s the only way to restore your peace and allow you to move on.

We all need forgiveness from God because we’ve all sinned. We need a God who forgives and forgets, or, as we’ve learned, chooses to no longer remember our sins. They’re gone, never to be held against us again. That forgiveness is accessible to all, but only known by those who come to Jesus in faith, who accept they’ve sinned and recognise they need a Saviour, who appreciate Jesus is that Saviour who dealt with their sins when he died for them on the cross. That can be you. Your sins can be remembered no more.

Bible References:

  • Luke 23:34
  • Matthew 27:54
  • Hebrews 8:11
  • Matthew 18:21
  • Matthew 18:22