Recently a Christian friend shared with me about an effort to reconcile with another Christian, with whom he had some relational difficulties due to a series of disagreements and altercations. He shared with me that during the course of his attempt to reconcile and heal his relationship with the other party, he was told that if he was truly loving, he should follow Paul’s description of love and “keep no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5). My friend expressed his confusion over the fact that this line of reasoning was used to justify a seeming unwillingness in the other party to admit wrongs committed in the recent past. When he tried to address the issues hindering his relationship with this other Christian, he was essentially told that he needed to just “forgive and forget.”
In light of this conversation, I’ve been pondering the idea of love, and wondering how love intersects with working through past wrongs. Is it true that when we forgive, we are required to just forget about the past? Was that what Paul meant when he said that love “keeps no record of wrongs”?
My initial reaction was to try to look up the meaning of the Greek words involved in Paul’s description of love. I discovered that the idea expressed in I Corinthians 13:5 can be translated variously as: “love is not resentful,” “love does not count up wrongdoing,” or “love does not entertain evil thoughts.” It appears that the phrase is not equated with the idea of “forgive and forget,” but rather with the idea of being resentful and bitter towards another person because of past wrongs, and harboring evil thoughts toward them or about them.
Thinking about what the phrase could mean, I found myself turning to 2 Samuel 12 and the story of the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David. This is the story of Nathan’s convicting parable, and the punishment pronounced for David’s murder of Uriah and sin with Bathsheba. After Nathan pronounces the penalty, and David confesses his sin, there is a fascinating verse in 2 Samuel 12:13-14.
And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”
Here we see God forgiving David, yet clearly not forgetting what He did, nor sweeping away the consequences for David’s evil actions. I think this passage can be insightful in terms of how God deals with sin.
While it is also true that God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25 and Isaiah 44:22), and removes it from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), He does not forget them so that He could not recount them. To believe this would be to deny the omniscience of God. It also denies the fact that everyone will give an account to God for the sins they commit. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:10) Instead, God in His mercy no longer holds those sins to our account. In terms of our justification, or right standing before Him, He attributes Christ’s righteousness to our account, and wipes our record of the many sins we have committed.
If God’s blotting or forgetting is in terms of holding things to our record, this is the way the idea of “keeping no record of wrongs” should be viewed. Following His example, when we forgive someone, we must choose not to “hold their hurtful actions against them.” In other words, we must choose not to view them with resentment or vengeance in our hearts. Fostering bitterness is dangerous, and contrary to love. However, this does not eliminate the need to work through issues as a consequence of sin, or in order to bring about restoration.
If you are trying to resolve an issue with someone else in a loving way, but are being told to just move on and “forgive and forget,” this is something to consider. You may not be able to forget the actions of another person, and it may not even be wise to try. However, you also can’t force people to reconcile with you, or admit past wrongdoing. If you are in this situation, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it is not a sin to remember wrongs that someone else has committed against you.
Choosing to continue acting with love towards that person is what matters. Be open to reconciliation. Walk in forgiveness. Choose grace.