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14 | Forgiving to forget

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Hi my name is Dean Smith and in this episode I will try to answer the age-old question, does forgiving forget.

I remember many years ago talking to a friend about forgiveness who replied “I can forgive, but I can never forget.” But is forgiving a key to forgetting?

In 1967, the nation of Israel awarded Corrie Ten Boom, who died in 1983, the title of Righteous Among the Nations because she along with her family helped Jews escape the Nazi holocaust through a hiding place in their family home in Holland.

However, on February 28, 1944, a Dutch Nazi collaborator turned the family in to the Nazis and they were arrested. The family was broken apart with Corrie and her sister Betsy ending up at the Nazi’s notorious Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.

Though Betsy would eventually die from the brutal treatment at the camp, a clerical error in December 1944 resulted in Corrie’s unintentional release. After the war, God raised up Corrie to preach a message of God’s forgiveness throughout war-torn Europe. But along with that message was a need to forgive those who caused the rain terror and devastation. And that was driven home to Corrie as she was speaking at a church in Munich, Germany in 1947, when she saw a heavy-set man in the congregation.

After the meeting, the man with his felt-hat clutched tightly in his hands approached Corrie. As he came closer, Corrie said his grey overcoat suddenly transformed into “a blue uniform and visor cap with a skull and crossbones.”

He was one of the guards at Ravensbruck and when he stuck out his hand, Corrie was immediately flooded by memories of the horrible place where her sister died.

Incinerators at the Nazi’s Ravensbruck concentration camp for women.

When Corrie didn’t take his hand, the man dropped his arm. The former concentration guard said he appreciated her message and had become a Christian after accepting God’s forgiveness through Christ and then he looked Corrie straight in the eye and asked “will you forgive me.”

Corrie knew the Bible taught that unless we forgive our debtors, God will not forgive us, and having also worked with concentration camp survivors after the war, Corrie also knew that only those who forgave the Nazis were able to move on. Those who couldn’t forgive remained trapped in the concentration camp wallowing in their memories, filled with bitterness and anger.

Corrie knew she had to forgive and she also knew that forgiving others was an act of the will. But this was also the first time Corrie had run into one of her former tormentors. It was difficult and after asking Jesus for help to forgive, Corrie raised her arm to shake his hand. She said:

“The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’”

That was Corries’ story from one of the most horrific situations a person can endure, and now I want to tell you my story of forgiving and forgetting. Several decades ago, I was walking down the street in the city where I lived when my mind was flooded with a memory of a negative incident that had happened to me years earlier.

I have no idea what triggered it, but it was a part of a package of about five negative memories from my past that would play like a video in my mind. They would come out of nowhere and suddenly I was reliving this incident that had happened to me years earlier.

I had become a Christian few year’s back and this time I did something different. I asked God why I was having those flashbacks. At that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit say that those flash backs were taking place because I hadn’t forgiven the people involved in those incidents.

Though thousands of things happened to me as I was growing up, that I couldn’t remember today even if I was offered a boatload of money, there were also five I couldn’t forget. At that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me that I was still having these flashbacks, because these different memories were being kept live by emotional charges of bitterness, anger, betrayal and resentment that had become attached to them. These negative emotions were keeping these memories alive and if I wanted them to stop, I needed to forgive.

At that moment, I forgave the people involved in the memory flashback I just had and when the others popped up I purposefully chose to forgive them as well. And with some of these memories I needed to forgive more than once, in fact multiple times. Every time they popped up I forgave again and I kept forgiving.

I forgave as Jesus commands seventy times seven. And as I did this, these memories started to fade. It didn’t happen over night, but as I broke the emotional charge that kept them alive, for the first time these memories had a chance to grow old and fade from my memory.

Today, I can’t even recall what most of them involved, even though they had hounded me for years. Thought that was my experience, what does the Bible say about forgiving and forgetting? First we need to look at God who forgives our sin through Christ. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah says:

“For I will forgive their wickedness
 and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 NIV)

God says that He not only forgives our sin, but notice how God says He forgets them as well. The two seem connected. Is God’s ability to forget, tied to His willingness to forgive?

Though this is how God does it, is there any evidence in the Bible that says the same thing will happen to us – will we forget as we sincerely forgive? I think so. As we look at the story of the ancient patriarch Joseph who was raised up to second in charge in Egypt, we read that he had two sons – Ephraim and Manasseh But it is Manasseh I want to focus on, because the Bible tells us:

51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” (Genesis 41:51 NASV)

The word Manasseh literally means “one who forgets.”

Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the story of Joseph the youngest and favoured son of Jacob. Jacob gave his youngest son a special multi-colored robe that he never gave any of the other brothers And then on top of this, Joseph received some dreams that he taunted his older brothers with of how one day they would all be bowing down to their youngest brother.

Joseph was your typical teenage boy and he was rubbing it in and mocking his older brothers about his entitled position in the family. Finally, the older brothers had had enough and when Joseph joined them while they were out tending the family flock, the brothers hatched a plot to kill Joseph. They would tell their father Jacob that a wild animal had killed his favoured son.

We need to realize what was going on here. When you are planning to kill someone you have to be enraged. Though we are not given all the details, it’s pretty obvious the brothers must have seized Joseph, probably tied him up and were no doubt mocking Joseph and telling him they were going to kill him. I am sure they were probably spitting on Joseph and even kicking and hitting him.

It was pay back time.

Though Joseph had been an idiot, he didn’t deserve to die for it. We can only imagine the hatred that the brothers had for him and the genuine terror that Joseph must have felt at that moment. Eventually, calmer heads prevailed and Joseph was thrown into a dried well and eventually sold into slavery.

But though the brothers intended what they did for evil, God turned it to good. Joseph was eventually raised up to become the second most powerful many in Egypt and when a drought hit Canaan, Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt seeking help. And when Joseph saw his brothers for the first time since they plotted to kill him, Joseph was undoubtedly overwhelmed with the memories of that night.

But God dealt with Joseph’s heart and he forgave allowing him to forget. And that is why he named his son Manasseh.

God has a future and purpose for your life and the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13, that he forgot those things that were behind him as he pressed ahead to those future things that God  had for him. The past will hand on to you like an anchor. We can only cut free from it, when we forgive.


  • “Learning to Forgive”, by Corrie Ten Boom (Guideposts Magazine: 1972
  • Lead Image: Incinerators at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp/Wikipedia/Public Domain

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