Ever heard the phrase “forgive and forget?”
A key aspect of the Christian message is forgiveness. The course of human history as recorded in the Bible is God’s reconciliatory work, reuniting with humanity through the forgiveness of sins. The Old Testament points forward to Jesus’ life and death and life. The New Testament records His work on this earth and the subsequent changes in our lives and society that should result. We can live our lives as Christians because of the forgiveness which happened all at once in roughly 30 AD and yet takes place daily as we mess up and turn to God repeatedly for pardon. That’s the forgiveness aspect. As Christians we have a duty to emulate and copy God’s forgiving attitudes and actions towards all people.
But what about the “forget” part? Not His forgetting: mine.
When do I get to let go of the shame and guilt of my own stupidity? When can I watch television without being reminded of the propensity for poor judgment I share with the protagonists on “Law and Order?”
We’ve all been there. Mistakes are made. Words are said. Feelings are hurt. Gone are wisdom and judgment, replaced with self-serving thoughtlessness rationalized by accusing the other guy of our own mistakes.
Thankfully, people have the ability to decide to show grace. They can set aside their own pain or embarrassment and look on us with love, or at least tolerance. But how do I do that with myself? How do I forgive and forget? When I sin against others, at least I can always walk away from the other person and allow distance to give us some perspective. I can’t leave myself behind, though; I’m always there to drive myself crazy, to self-incriminate and self-remind.
A Christian counselor once defined guilt as the sensation resulting from having done something to rupture our relationship with God; shame is similar yet distinct in its correlation to a disruption in our relationship with others as a result of our own mistakes. What’s the word for disrupting my relationship with me?
God forgives and forgets by choice, fueled by His divine character. Our friends and families do so voluntarily for a mix of reasons, including necessity, love, grace, and godliness. How do I accomplish this for Me, someone with whom I don’t really have a relationship and to whom I owe nothing and everything?
I no longer fear divine retribution for my failure to obey and serve. I rest easily in the knowledge of His love and mercy towards me. I know those around me practice these characteristics as well, albeit less perfectly and more inconsistently. I can even forgive me. Why can’t I forget, though? Everyone else gets to forget my sins; when does forgetting start for me?
Is this my penance, my temporal punishment doled out in lieu of eternal damnation? The self-loathing masochist in me would actually welcome such a thing, for a time at least. Or is this just the result of my own actions, a consequential and circumstantial slap on the wrist that requires no divine initiation?
Did King David ever mourn the consequences of his own actions, seeing in his sons the results of his tendency to solve problems with a sword? Did he lie awake at night, angry at his own poor judgment?
Did Moses rage against himself, helpless in the face of his own complicity in denying the Israelites his guidance into Canaan because he was too angry to obey God in the desert? Did Thomas weep as he traveled and preached, filled with shame at his unwillingness to believe in Christ’s resurrection from the start, despite Jesus’ forgiveness and dismissal of the matter?
I wonder if this is my thorn, that which I will suffer until the day I die as a way of teaching me to depend on Him. Maybe, just maybe, as I mature and grow into the kind of servant and child He wants me to become I will suffer both greater pain and greater joy. Pain because my increasing understanding of His character will cause me to see my actions in a clearer light, one that illuminates the true extent of my poor judgment and sin. Joy because I will see myself becoming more and more distant from whom I used to be.
Perhaps I’ll never forget my own sins. I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll always lie awake at night and wonder who I’ve hurt, and how badly. The realness of my sins’ consequences serves to remind me: my pain, and that of those I offend, is nothing compared to what a holy and almighty God experiences when I spurn Him and His guidance.
I won’t clutch these sensations to myself, determined to make them mine in spite of God’s curative powers. Neither will I join the medieval Flagellants, deliberately flogging my heart and soul in order to prove my piety. Instead, I will hold my head high, confident and blessed in the knowledge that no matter how little I esteem myself or my spiritual worth in light of my sins, there is One who values me. He has surrounded me with reminders of His blessings: friends and family; skills and experiences; joys and laughter.
Perhaps someday I’ll learn to value me as He does. When that day arrives, I’ll see myself through His eyes and with His heart, and I’ll not see what isn’t there.