One of the good things about having a bad memory is a tendency to forget offenses. But one of the bad things about having a bad memory is a tendency to forget offenses. The good part is obvious, I know. This has indeed been a great benefit applied to the irritations and annoyances that pop up in my day. If I abide in Christ and allow the Lord to draw me nearer, I am not likely to even see these little blips of aggravations, and if I do, my bad memory serves me well again and the thoughts of them just fade away.
Colossians 3:13? I’ve got this down: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
But when my bad memory shuffles thoughts of true offenses to the fuzzy, hazy recesses of my mind, that actually is a bad thing. I may not be able to recall the details, but the residual effects have already traced their patterns on my mind. The subconscious memory of sorrow or pain, the automatic mental construction of a wall against future hurt, the distrust of every action or word that comes from the original source—they are all there creating a blueprint for how I respond to the offender, as well as future interactions with others.
Seemingly unaffected as I am by external negative things that come at me in life, I assume I don’t have to worry about how to handle offenses because I get over them so quickly. (Yep, I know. Red flag on the assumptions.) Then when a hurt does stay with me, when a offense puts in anchor and won’t just wash away like the others, I log a great big failure in forgiveness. I can’t let it go; it eats at me and controls every part of my thought life, my prayer life, my soul life—not overtly, but by popping up with little insinuations about motive or dismissive attitudes when the offender is around. Sometimes I can’t even articulate what it was they did, but I know, just know, it was hurtful. You know the old adage, “Forgive and forget”? The forgetting I thought I was doing wasn’t happening because I wasn’t also forgiving.
God provided an illustration of this in our family life on a fairly regular basis—you’d think I’d learn the lesson by now. I am notorious as a mom for not responding immediately to my kids’ injuries; I wait to see just how bad they are before seeking medical help, and sometimes that’s just a little longer than I should. Not long ago, the wait-and-see approach with a scraped up leg yielded an angry red appearance and gooey, oozing pus from unsanitary-looking wounds. Off to urgent care, and a prescription for antibiotics put us back on the right path.
That red, throbbing, oozing wound is what happens when an unforgiven offense is left unattended. It festers and seeps poison into the air, creating dissension among all the parts. Hebrews 12:5 says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness, springing up, causes trouble, and by it many may be defiled.” Having a neglectful attitude about dealing with offenses can lead to a root of bitterness springing up in places where we least expect it, where we think all is well, causing trouble and defiling many. According to Deuteronomy 29:18, the root is one that bears “poisonous and bitter fruit”.
The simple words of a Sunday school lesson taught long ago helped me root out those festering patterns of resentment.
Forgiveness is a way of showing Jesus’s love to those who have hurt us.
What I was attributing to a mere inability to keep in the front of my mind an offense that was better left unremembered was actually a refusal to love as Jesus first loved me. What I was accepting as a tendency not to be easily offended was in truth a delusion that others didn’t deserve from me what I had been so graciously given by Christ. I needed a frank and serious encounter with the gravity of what my situation would be without Christ’s work of forgiveness and atonement.
God so willingly provided that encounter just when I needed it. Here it was in the Sunday School lesson on forgiveness, leaping off the pages of my Bible as I read first the account of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 50) and then the crucifixion account in Luke 23. Jesus’s grace and mercy invading my prison, overlooking the sin—the sins against him—that bound me to an eternity of damnation, releasing me from my chains and presenting me faultless before the throne. What grounds do I have to withhold forgiveness or to treat it with such triviality that I let it sit unaddressed in my heart? It was time to lay an ax to that root of bitterness and unforgiveness. I needed to be intentional about forgiveness, addressing situations immediately. And I had a bit of a list to get started on.
Jesus’s work of forgiveness serves as an act of war against the norm of this fallen world. We are surrounded by brokenness—and to be clear, I’m referring to lives damaged and not a euphemism for sin.
Sometimes it erupts in rage or defiance or selfward aggression or triumph in immorality; usually it festers in distrustfulness, secretiveness, cold aloofness, prejudice, oppressive practices, loneliness, seething bitterness. Sin wields a deadly weapon and in the rubble is a world of people already dead but still writhing from the infection that has set in.
This is the norm. But Christ, “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins“ (Colossians 1:14), his saving work brings back to life the corpses that litter the earth. The ones reborn, the supernaturally created new beings, children of God, each one of them has been transformed by the love and forgiveness of Jesus through his mercy and grace.
The world thinks power is in withholding forgiveness; God restores kingdom order with forgiveness.
So am I prone to forget offenses and must work harder than others to be more intentional about forgiving? Or am I dismissing the weightiness of the work of grace that was done for me because I don’t think it matters? It doesn’t matter whether I think about what has occurred in an incident that causes hurt, grief and separation, and so I don’t extend grace and forgiveness to others. More than just lack of intentionality; this is arrogance, which I need to repent of. It causes me to fall short of grace. It’s a far cry from that simple definition from the lesson: showing Jesus’s love to those who have hurt me.
Forgiving others attacks the decay and rot and brokenness of sin, its presence and power, and the blows I strike against the norms of this world are done in the power of the Spirit which has been granted to me in my inner being, “so that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith—that I, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that I may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19, pronouns changed).
It’s like a powerful, effective antibiotic treating an infection—times seven, or maybe seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).