“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;
and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25, NKJV)
The images from Micah already hint at how forgiveness is to be granted. An offense is to be cast off, put away, disassociated from the offender. By it the offended is disarmed and the offense defused.
Remove and Remember Not
Movement toward reconciliation begins with forgiveness. Steps in the direction of peace can be expressed as “remove” and “remember not.”
When we hold something against someone who has wronged us, that person and the offense are conjoined. Their transgression is pinned to them. To look at them is to see the offense. The first order of forgiveness is to remove the offense from the person, expunging the wrong from their record. In the model of God’s forgiveness, we remove their transgression from them as far as the east is from the west (Psa. 103:12). To look at one is not to look at the other.
Another helpful image toward this end is found in Isaiah 38:17, where God is said to have cast all our sins behind His back. God is a spirit and has no physical back or body, of course, but He gives us this picture of dealing with transgression to tell us something about forgiveness. If we put a person’s offense behind our back, we remove it from them and we remove it from our sight. It carries the same meaning of separating the offense and offender as far as the east is from the west.
Once we take that step of removing, how do we follow up? We remember not. We follow the example of God when He says: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa. 43:25). We are often told to forgive and forget, and we can appreciate the sentiment. We want to put it out of our minds and even exile it from our memories. But there is no switch that we can flip to forget. The jury may be told to disregard something said by a witness, but that’s like trying to unring a bell. But working to “not remember” is something we can do. We work at not remembering by not giving it air time in our mind. The principle is that what we don’t feed will die, or at least lose its potency.
To whom might we tend to air the grievance, thus keeping it alive? Certainly, we shouldn’t bring it up to those we have forgiven. After all, we removed it from them. It is no longer our right to accuse them. We have let it go. Nor do we want to bring it up to others, where the winds of gossip fan the flame and keep the embers of the offense from dying down. We also don’t want to bring it up to ourselves, allowing it a place in our thinking. Rather, we want to follow the counsel of Paul when he says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). We want to think constructively not destructively, not merely thinking positively but thinking profitably.
- How is “not remembering” different from “forgive and forget”?
- What can you do to work at not remembering an offense against you?
Father, forgive my unforgiveness. Help me by Your Spirit to do the hard work of forgiving those who have hurt me and wronged me. I don’t have the power and sometimes don’t have even the inclination to forgive. How can that be? Give me Your Spirit, whom You promise to those who ask.
For more on forgiveness as a basic doctrine of the Christian faith, see The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. For more on the perspective and practice of forgiveness see Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.