Forgive and Forget?

We are all familiar with the phrase, “forgive and forget”.

I don’t believe that is a valid concept.


Because we can’t forget!

One memory expert has said:

Whenever emotions are activated, especially strong emotions, the information or experience is entrenched into memory. Often times we tend to dwell on it, thereby rehearsing it and entrenching it even further. [1]

When someone hurts us, it activates strong emotions within us. Those strong emotions cause that hurt to be deeply engrained in our memories. We can’t forget about it. Our brains won’t let us. We are physiologically wired by God to remember important events in our lives.

And that is actually what makes forgiveness so powerful.

If I could forget about the hurt, then forgiveness would be a piece of cake. “I don’t remember you doing that. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

But the fact is, I do remember. I can’t forget.

And so, forgiveness an ongoing process. Every time the memory of that hurt comes to my mind, I must once again make the conscious decision to not let it affect the way I treat the person whom I have forgiven.

Forgiveness, then, is actually a commitment.

  • I am committed to not holding a grudge.
  • I am committed to not harboring ill will.
  • I am committed to not thinking bad thoughts about the person I have forgiven.
  • I am committed to acting toward that person as though the offense had never occurred.

That is powerful stuff!

It’s also necessary stuff.

When Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray in Matthew 6, one of the petitions He included in the model prayer was:

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. (verse 12)

Then, immediately after finishing the prayer, He spoke these words in verses 14 and 15.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

When Peter asked Jesus a question about forgiveness in Matthew 18, Jesus explained the importance of forgiveness with the following parable (verses 21-35).

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [or, seventy times seven].

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The giving of forgiveness to others is actually a prerequisite to receiving forgiveness from God. Any forgiveness that I might give, however, is miniscule in comparison to the forgiveness I have received.

In terms of modern-day monetary equivalence, the master forgave the servant’s debt to the tune of millions of dollars. In contrast, that same servant then refused to forgive a fellow servant’s debt in the amount of a few measly dollars.

The question for us is obvious:

How in the world could I refuse to forgive someone who has hurt my poor little feelings – or even stabbed me in the back – when those wrongs pale in comparison to the mountain of sins for which God has forgiven me? It only makes sense that I would offer forgiveness.

But if you really want to understand the true power of forgiveness, simply take a look at the cross.

Jesus suffered unimaginable agony as He hung there between heaven and earth, with the weight of all of humanity’s sins on His shoulders.

He was the Son of God, the King of the universe, the One through whom all the universe had been created (John 1:1-4) and in whom all the universe is held together (Colossians 1:15-17).

He was not guilty of even the slightest sin, yet was being executed as though He were the worst of all criminals; an act that amounted to murder on the part of His executioners, and conspiracy to commit murder on the part of the Jewish leaders.

And in the middle of all of that, abandoned by His own Father (Matthew 27:46) and betrayed by those He had created, Jesus uttered the ten most powerful words to ever cross a human tongue:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
(Luke 23:34 KJV)

With His dying breath, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were in the very process of murdering Him.

That is powerful stuff!

Paul O'Rear Signature



  • Forgive and forget? I don’t think so! (Tweet that)
  • We can’t forget, and that’s what makes forgiveness so powerful! (Tweet that)
  • If I could forget, then forgiveness would be a piece of cake. (Tweet that)
  • Forgiveness is an ongoing process. It’s a commitment. (Tweet that)
  • Forgiveness is powerful! It’s also necessary. (Tweet that)
  • Any forgiveness I give is miniscule compared to the forgiveness God has given me. (Tweet that)
  • 10 most powerful words ever spoken: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Tweet that)



  1. Chrapko, Tonia E. The Secrets of the Brain: The Mystery of Memory. 2004. (accessed June 8, 2013).

Please be respectful of others when posting a comment, even if you disagree with me or with another commenter. I reserve the right to delete any comment that is snarky, offensive, off-topic, or contains profanity. By posting a comment on this blog, you agree to abide by my Comment Policy .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

14 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget?

  1. This is by far the best post I have ever read on forgiveness, I have been blessed today with clarity on this all-important subject. Thsnk you.

    • Thank you, Denise. Clarity on the subject of forgiveness is something that was missing in my life for a long time, because I felt like something was wrong with me when I had forgiven someone but was simply unable to forget what had happened. It makes a whole lot more sense to me that the inability to forget is actually what makes forgiveness so powerful.

    • Thank you, Angie. I think we’re all in the same boat when it comes to needing a daily reminder about the importance of forgiveness. It can be powerful and life-changing, but it can also be very difficult.

  2. Wow !! Paul thank u for that!! U don’t realize how powerful forgiveness is until u do forgive!!! U never forget the hurt but u can forgive!!
    It is not easy!!

    U r so good Paul!!

    Love ya!!

  3. Paul, I have needed this for a long time. This past year has been devastating and I’m trying to forgive. Thank you for your amazing words!

    • Bless your heart, Laura. Sometimes life is painful, and sometimes that pain results from other people hurting us. Forgiveness doesn’t always make the pain go away, at least not immediately. But I think it does move us in that direction. I pray that the coming year will bring peace in the place of devastation.

  4. Good message Paul. It would be nice if we could forget. Sometimes forgiveness is hard. It is important for each of us to remember that each of us at sometime will want and need forgiveness.
    It is also important to remember to try and forgive quickly. Tomorrow may not come.

    • Excellent thoughts, Mike! The need to RECEIVE forgiveness – both from God and from our brothers and sisters – is perhaps the greatest motivation to GIVE forgiveness to others. Thanks for adding your wisdom to the conversation.

  5. Forgiveness IS powerful. I like the way singer/songwriter Matthew West puts it, when you forgive someone who has hurt you, “the prisoner that it really frees is you.” Bitterness is unable to gain a foothold and it points others to Christ. Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Paul. God bless~

    • Isn’t that the ironic thing about harboring grudges or ill will? The only person I am hurting – the only person I am imprisoning when I refuse to forgive – is myself! My bitterness is not ruining the life of the person who hurt me, but it keeps me trapped until I am willing to let it go. Thanks for joining the conversation, Maria.