404 Can You Really Forgive And Forget?

Can You Really Forgive And Forget?

Six years ago my then-wife said to me the most devastating words you can say to your spouse:

“I don’t love you anymore.”

A year later I received papers in the mail and at 28 years old, I was divorced. I was broken beyond anything I had ever experienced. Over the next couple of years I would learn what it means to both forgive her and myself. But was I really supposed to forgive AND forget?

I recently read an article titled “Can you force yourself to forget?“. It talks about the psychology of repressed memory and discussed the possibility of actively suppressing unwanted memories. It seems there are mixed results in determining if this is actually possible but many think the studies are worthwhile.

Ultimately, attempting to suppress a memory is a coping mechanism. I don’t believe you can both forgive AND forget. Not by suppressing, anyways. If you’ve forgotten or suppressed a memory, your forgiveness is pretty much irrelevant.

But there is a difference between forgetting and choosing not to remember.

We can both actively remember and choose not to remember. There’s a verse in the Bible that says “love keeps no record of wrongs” (2 Cor. 13:5). If forgiveness is removing the blame of an offense, then you have actively chosen not to keep score. That’s different from forgetting it ever happened.

God gives us the prime example of how this works. A verse in Hebrews says God does not remember our sin (Heb. 8:12). It doesn’t say He forgets, it says that He chooses not to remember.

I used to think that if God is omniscient (all-knowing), how can He forget what I did? But He doesn’t really forget. He just chooses not to remember.

I haven’t forgotten about my first marriage. I didn’t suppress those memories but I have chosen not to remember the pain. By forgiving, I have removed the blame and chosen not to keep a record of wrongs. This was something I can only do by His grace.

I realized that true forgiveness isn’t forgetful, it’s supernatural.


  1. Geraldine Logan says:

    I have often asked why I could forive and forget some more easily then others. I have reflected on this a lot and this was a revelation to me perhaps it may make since to someone else. Sometimes I’m hurt by others and have been hurt before in a familiar way by some else.. If I have not forgiven the first it is harder to forgive the second person of similar offense. I’m learning for me my forgiving and forgetting is not of my human nature it is an extension of the forgiveness and not remembering God has given me. It’s His grace that gives me remembrance of His gift to me that I chose to give part of the actual gift to someone else. If I say I won’t forget neither will God… To keep the flow of His forgiveness and forgetting to me and through to another gives room for Him to keep replenishing His forgiveness to me. You see I’m in need of His forgiveness often for I fall short. If I think it’s really mine to give it in self righteousness/control/lack of humility not God’s righteousness and His control. Does that make sense to anyone. Well it does for me today. Unforgiveness is like drinking poision expecting the other to drop dead

    • Geraldine Logan says:

      However this doe not mean to be a doormat and tolerate abuse wisdom dictates to step back wait for a moment and let the person know if possible how you feel. You may choose to forgive/forget with distance and safety. Boundaries good lesson to study and pray on

  2. This speaks to me, because at the moment forgiveness, justice, the idea of fairness and moving on is an issue I’m really struggling with. How do you cope when someone intentional hurts you, repeatedly and feels justified because “they wanted what you have” or “it made them happy.” I see this person as a person, and I’m sure some profound hurt happened to make them behave in this way, but my compassion ends here. Seeing them with dignity does not alleviate the pain their actions have caused me and my child, or feelings that they are or are still willing to act out in this way. I’m in a great deal of pain and ruminations and I desperately want to get to the otherside of this, but in this situation I feel unsafe with this person around me, and I’m not able to turn the other cheek and extend my hand. My graciousness in this matter so far has surprised me,but I do not like the constant feeling that I need to look over my shoulder or anticipate additional pain and disappointment. I’ve really tried to communicate openly and move on, but the other parties in this matter are simply not playing by the same rule book and feel justified in their wrong doings as long as the end result brings them joy. How do you barter with that???

  3. Everyone can forgive and forget for the hurt that other people that able them to experience. However, it depends on how deep is the heartaches that a person did to that person. Forgiving and forgetting is not easy and only time can tell when a person can forgive and forget the heartaches.
    Vanessa Moore recently posted..Eliminate That Yellow Grin And Get A Bright White Smile

  4. Tony, I certainly do believe there is a difference. I choose not to remember because in the end I can’t live my life in pain and anger and expect God to use me to help others who are in in pain and anger. God Bless.
    Juan Cruz Jr recently posted..God’s Patience

  5. Of course you can forgive to someone who hurt you as long as your heart is open for forgiveness. However, if your heart is not yet ready I am so sure that it is really hard for you to give your forgiveness.
    Lora Colin recently posted..Hair Loss Prevention: What is the Best Method?

  6. Somewhere when I was young a pastor spoke on Micah, and when he came to, “He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” he explained that God put up a No Fishing sign when He cast our sins into the depths of the sea.

    Our not remembering, in the way God chooses not to remember, is that whenever we find ourselves rehearsing, rehashing, and rethinking stories and events that call others sins–and our wounds–to remembrance, we shut it down. We don’t meditate on these things. We choose “not to remember” which as you point out doesn’t require us to forget, just to be disciplined in not indulging ourselves in remembering.

    Keep up your faithful work…
    Art Mealer recently posted..The Good, The Bad, and then it gets Ugly

    • You’re so right, Art. When we’re living with unforgiveness, we want to relive and meditate on those things which is only self-destructive.

      • Sometimes, the person we need to forgive is ourselves, and we find that difficult. There are some episodes when I felt I let people down, or embarrassed myself, or played the coward, etc. Every thought of these is like a literal punch in the gut, physically and mentally painful. They go as far back as grade school. I’ve learned to stop remembering and rehearsing them right away when they barge into my mind. I also tell myself, “yep, you’re an idiot, but He loves me anyway” and I move on.
        Art Mealer recently posted..The Good, The Bad, and then it gets Ugly

  7. Thanks Tony for doing the hard work. I’ve come to realize that forgiveness is more about changing my judgment of the other person in the moment of trauma (from “you’re a bad person to you’re a good person who is hurting and broken too). In that regard, I don’t have to forget. I am simply remembering again the dignity of the person hurting me.
    Jonathan Brink recently posted..The Redemption of Metallica

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