No one forgives naturally. One of the things we’ve found to be the case in teaching classes such as Conflict Resolution and Anger Transformation is that our students (just like their sinful instructors) often deal with issues of anger and bitterness because they have not forgiven people who have hurt them. They have been told (we’ve all be told this, haven’t we?) that the solution to their sense of being wronged is to “forgive and forget.” Forgive and forget, just like words such as sick and tired, or fell and swoop, seem to come prepackaged together. Yet anyone who has been the victim of serious injustice has found that forgetting the transgression committed in such a case is impossible– and therefore, forgiving the transgressor becomes impossible too.
James McClendon says something about this in his book Ethics:
This brings up the recurrent belief that forgiving means forgetting. And indeed, Scripture says that God tells Israel he “will remember your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25 NEB). Yet this cannot be understood with literal simplicity, for in the following verse (26) the forgiving God recounts those very forgiven sins Israel has committed. In this passage, then, to forget must mean to cease to harbor resentment, must mean to hold their sins against them no longer. Indeed, it might be more truly said of forgiveness that it is a special kind of remembrance. One who forgives knows the other’s offense to be offense; forgiveness takes its rise, begins, as Butler has shown, from natural resentment, else there is nothing to forgive. Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven. In this sense, to forgive is truly to love one’s offending neighbor as oneself. Forgiving is not forgetting, for we can repress the memory and still be at enmity with one another; for Christians, forgiving is rather remembering under the aspect of membership in the body of Christ: it is knowing that he who is our body and we, forgiven and forgiver, are all one.
One of those lines in particular deserves repeating: “Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven.” Forgiving in this way will not only make us more like Christ, who took our offense up into his own life and died for it; it will also show us more and more the precious price our Savior paid to forgive.