I want to start off by asking a question of you. Have you ever heard – or said – or both – this statement? “Well, I can forgive…but I can never forget!!” I have never said it, but I have THOUGHT it. You know, there is a lot of things we do to each other that require big and little “forgivenesses” in order to keep getting along, but when it comes to being able to fulfill that old saying, “Forgive and forget”? Many say that that’s just plain impossible!
However, let me put this to you: I think a case can be made that our forgiveness of others is not very real – and certainly far too shallow – if we cannot, at the same time, forget. We know that “forgetting” is something that God is able to do. In Isaiah, chapter 43, verse 25, God tells us, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” There are several other places in both Testaments where God proclaims God’s ability to forget our sins, in the midst of God’s forgiveness – pointing to, perhaps, forgetfulness as an important part of forgiveness.
Now, believe me, I know how difficult it is for us to forget the wrongs that people do to us. And if forgetting means that we have complete amnesia about what has happened in the past, that’s NOT the kind of forgetfulness that I’m talking about here. I’m making the case for being able to grow our faith and our service to others through the process of forgetting the PAIN which can chain us to the past.
Joseph, in the book of Genesis, once the favorite son of Jacob and later 2nd in command of all Egypt, understood the power of forgetting – of not remembering in a certain way. As he rose from his forced exile into Egypt – sent there by his jealous brothers…as then he rose from an unjust accusation that put him in Egyptian prison – rising to power in the Pharaoh’s house – Joseph then took a wife and they had two children. Please note that Joseph named the first of his two sons Manasseh, which in Hebrew means “Making to forget.” “For,” Joseph said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.”
This is significant. Joseph had endured so much hardship – not only being kidnapped and taken to a foreign country, but for years languishing, though innocent, in a terrible jail – that it was amazing that not only did Joseph escape prison through his ability to interpret dreams but Joseph also had the wherewithal and the talent to rise to be second in command over what was then the most powerful nation on earth! That must be someone who knows how NOT to let past trauma get in the way of future accomplishment!
You know we have a concept in our culture encapsulated in a saying – “the vicious circle.” In the vicious circle, one does something bad to someone, who in turn does something bad to someone else, and so on. Sometimes people in the same household just keep hurting each other in reaction to being hurt, in a vicious circle, day after day after day! We know from studies of PTSD – which doesn’t just happen in war – that deep trauma rears its ugly head in many ways, impeding the progress not only of individuals, but of whole groups of people, and of nations!
But Joseph listened to his Lord God – the same Lord God with the power to forget, to “not remember” – and put the hurt from the past behind him so that he could fully function as servant to those who lived in Egypt – saving them from seven years of severe drought – but also saving many other peoples – including the Hebrews of his own family – who came to Egypt to get food and not starve to death. Thus Joseph named Manasseh in tribute to his God’s commandment to forget the past – “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” But what did it mean to “forget…all my father’s house”? Did Joseph forget all about his family back home?
Clearly that’s not the case, and that leads us to a little insight, I think. When Joseph’s brothers – not recognizing Joseph – came to the Pharaoh’s 2nd in command, asking Joseph for food to take back home – we clearly see that Joseph had not “forgotten all my father’s house” when it came to remembering their names, their personalities, and what they had done to him. Joseph makes his brother’s come and go from Israel to Egypt and back many times, with poor young Benjamin at risk of his innocent life – just so that Joseph could figure out whether his brothers were better men than what he recalled they used to be. No, what Joseph was getting at when he named his son Manasseh and said that God had made Joseph forget all his father’s house was that God had gifted Joseph with the ability to forget the PAIN of what they had done to him. Taking the sting of out the past is key, for it is that STING, that PAIN that can grab a hold of us, keeping us stuck in the past, not letting go – often, unfortunately, perpetuating a vicious circle of HURT.
That’s the key to the truth of the phrase “forgive and forget.” We can never, really, “forget” that something bad happened; what we CAN and SHOULD do is look for ways that these past incidents can loosen their grip on our present and our future. That’s what Joseph did, with God’s help; he let God free him from his past, so that when his brothers DID reappear in his life, and he was tempted to get revenge – to get them back! – he was able to resist that temptation and not only save his family from starvation, but, as Joseph later informed his family, save the future God had planned for God’s people – a future that we now know included the birth of a certain Jew named Jesus in Nazareth – who became the Messiah, yes, but also the Savior of the whole world!
In the New Testament, too, we see an encouragement for forgetting as well as forgiving. In his letter to the Philippian Christians, the Apostle Paul, then in jail and uncertain of his future in this world, told them the following in chapter three in a section entitled, “Breaking with the Past,” which is our “Boost from the Bible” today. Paul proclaims, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death…Not that I have already obtained this…but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
You see, not only when it comes to “forgiving and forgetting” but also when it comes to “forgetting and moving forward,” to forget the pain of the past is to empower yourselves to be “at the ready” – to be God’s ready instruments – ready to serve others and implement God’s will for the future. We are called to hear Christ’s next command, whatever it is in these COVID times, and, as Paul put it, “strain forward to what lies ahead” as God’s heart, hands, and voice.
Forgetting the pain and agony of the past gives our hearts and minds room to think of other things instead – how we may help others in new and better ways (with the Holy Spirit providing the creative ideas on that score)…and, as we think of other things, the frustrations and worries of bygone days fade away. Paul gave us a list, later in Philippians, chapter four, of things we can think about INSTEAD of the pain of the past: “Finally, beloved,” he said, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.”
So, if you think about the past, think about those things back then that now give you encouragement, not heartache. Then open yourselves up to be aware of God’s approach to every new situation, by being in a constant, prayerful, listening-to-Jesus mode. And don’t let past defeats force you to say to God, “Sorry, I can’t do that; it didn’t work before.” Let God’s own “power to forget” be gifted into…be transferred into…your life, through the Spirit of God that is already lodged in our hearts!
As I say that to you, someone might say in reply, “Well, if one time I almost got run over by a car crossing the street, I should remember to look both ways next time, and not forget to do that.” I would reply, yes, that’s certainly true, but don’t let your near-scrape with death mean you’ll never try to cross a street again!
Let us, like Joseph and Paul, no longer be shackled by the sins in our past, or by the sins of others against us. Let us, like both of those men and more, look to the future not with fear but as a future filled with opportunity to show others a loving witness to the grace of Jesus Christ. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” proclaimed Paul. “Do not submit again to that old yoke of slavery” – slavery to old slights, old wrongs, old difficulties…all old news. Amen!
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.