When the Bible talks about the forgiveness God gives us, it’s described as not a forgetting of our sins only but as a removal of them as if they never existed. That’s why God doesn’t remember them anymore. It’s not because he’s forgetful or erases his memory but because they no longer exist.
“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)
Human forgiveness doesn’t work that way. We don’t easily forget sin, ours or anyone else’s. In part, this is because we equate forgiveness with trust. They aren’t the same, though.
The motivation to forgive others comes from knowing we have been forgiven and realizing that unforgiveness only creates blockades in our lives.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-16)
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
Even though we know how God feels about forgiveness, it is still one of the most difficult things to do. Why is that?
Having to forgive for the same thing over and over results in continually looking backward instead of being able to focus forward. Even if we can forgive and forget the past, we’ll struggle moving forward if trust isn’t being built. Or, we simply cannot let go of past hurts even when behavior has changed.
“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?” (Matthew 18:21)
Sometimes, we must forgive a person – including ourselves – repeatedly because forgiveness is difficult. We’re not God, after all, and we often confuse trust with forgiveness.
I’ve learned that the key to forgiving others, whether for the first or 100th time, lies with Trusting God.
“If we want two good indications of how much we are really trusting God, we should pay attention to our levels of anxiety and anger when things don’t go our way and to the steadiness of our stream of thanksgiving, whatever the circumstances.” (God Hunger: Meditations for a Life of Longing)
When I forgive someone, it’s really my trusting God with the outcome. It’s saying that while I don’t feel like forgiving and I might not yet – if ever – trust, I forgive anyway because it pleases God.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21)