I received a Facebook message this weekend from an old friend of mind who asked me my thoughts on this question,
"How do you know if you have truly forgiven someone? I've prayed with a sincere heart to forgive someone for a hurt they have done but thoughts of the hurt still come to my mind from time to time."
I think we were all taught a very unbiblical concept as kids when we were told that forgiveness means you “forgive and forget.” As a result, whenever we “remember” a past hurt we struggle with the question, “Have I really forgiven that person?”
The truth is that the concept of “forgive and forget” is nowhere to be found in Scripture nor, in my opinion, is it even possible. I can remember my past hurts – especially the big ones. So if forgiveness isn’t forgetting, what is it?
In 1 Corinthians 13 we learn two things about love. First we learn that love is patient. The word “patient” describes being wronged, having the power to retaliate, but choosing not to do so. I think this is a great definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness means that when I remember the hurt, and I am tempted to bring that hurt back up in order to use it as a weapon to get back at the person who hurt me, I choose not to do so. That is forgiveness.
1 Corinthians 13 goes on to say that love "keeps no record of wrongs." I think it is a similar concept. I may remember past hurts, but I don’t intentionally keep that memory tucked away in my mind and heart with the motive to use it against the person at some point in the future. Forgiveness says, “Even though I remember how you hurt me, and even though I am tempted when that memory comes to use it as a weapon against you, I choose through the power and grace of God not to do so.” That to me is Biblical forgiveness and as well as a quality of Biblical love.
A book that really helped my wife and I when we went through a time in our ministry when people hurt us deeply was R.T. Kendall’s book, “Total Forgiveness.” It’s a good read for anyone who wants to know more about what forgiveness looks like!