Forgive, but don’t forget (1 Samuel 7)

I’m holding on to a grudge.

A girl I met in high school, with whom I spent over ten years building a friendship, hurt me. Never mind the details, but I felt used and belittled and then discarded.

Over and over, I rehearse to myself what she did to me, having fake arguments with her, giving her back as good as she gave. It’s silly, but it feels healing or something. I forgave her, I tell myself, and I have. But I’ll never forget.

That’s the rewrite of the age old phrase that more and more of us are coming to accept. No longer is it “forgive and forget”, because some people you should keep your guard up with for the rest of your life. It makes sense. It feels better this way, less toxic, more realistic.

But what happens when we are on the other end of that saying?

Already forgotten

It was a dark time in Israel. God had just punished them severely for their carelessness with the Ark of the Covenant; their disobedience of His laws. Now, with seventy friends, fathers, mothers and siblings dead, the Israelites try to move on.

They move the ark to a new location, a safer one where no one will be tempted to play games with it. They even have a formal service to consecrate a new guy to look after the Ark.

“Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord.”

verse 2

The Israelites turn over a new leaf. They throw out and destroy their old idols. They come together to a town called Mizpah for a revival. They fast, confess, and pray.

Things are looking good. Then the Philistines show up.

Hearing most of the Israelites were together in one place, they thought they had easy prey laid out for them. The Israelites plead with God to save them. They beg Samuel to pray and pray and pray and not to stop. They’re terrified.

And shouldn’t they be? The Israelites have a track record. This is the zillionth time they have messed up, felt bad, and then tried to get their spiritual life back on track. Chances are great that they’re just going to go back to their favorite sins again anyway.

A reasonable God would not fall for this old act. It’s one thing to forgive the Israelites, quite another to forget. He should let them squirm a little! Keep His distance. He shouldn’t let all that toxic energy back into His space. He doesn’t need that!

But reason, logic, fairness all seem to have flown out the window. God doesn’t hesitate a nanosecond. He comes powerfully to the Israelites’ defense, sending violent thunderclaps to disorient the Philistines so that the Israelites could fight them.

It works. The Israelites are victorious and they settle down for several years of peace and prosperity. They win back the land the Philistines had taken from them. They are happy. They are safe. Their relationship with God is restored.

Unfair. It’s not fair! It’s not right! They don’t deserve that kind of mercy and forgiveness! All they’re going to do is break God’s heart again!

But that isn’t His concern. He loves them. He has forgiven and forgotten.

“I want you to inherit from Me mercy and love.”

I’m all for deconstruction. Letting go of old traditions that don’t serve us. Listening to new perspectives and new understanding of what it means to be a Christian, what God has truly asked of us in His Word.

But as we do these things, we can’t lose sight of our Example, our Reason, and our Foundation. We don’t want to deconstruct Christianity to fit us and this new society. We want to deconstruct legalistic and human Christian traditions until what’s left is what is really of Christ.

And that goes for the tradition of “forgive and forget”. There are some wrongs we shouldn’t forget. There are some abuses, some traumas we can’t forget.

But there will also be situations that call for more mercy. Maybe instead of remembering every detail of the wrongs done us, we can remember that God can and does change people. Maybe instead of remembering only how hurt we felt, we can choose to remember the love we used to feel.

Maybe we can forget a little.

Because at the end of the day, we all deserve to have our wrongs listed with perfect accuracy, hanging over our heads, threatening us.

But each and every last one of us has instead received the stunning gift of mercy, which has inexplicably washed all of our mistakes beyond the reach of our God’s memory.

And it’s a gift that we need to share.

What do you think? When do you think it’s appropriate to forgive and forget?

3 thoughts on “Forgive, but don’t forget (1 Samuel 7)

  1. It is appropriate to forgive and forget but I hear what you’re saying. I think part of the not forgetting is to be wiser in the future. The “hurt” is what we need to let go of because we can become bitter. Very bitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I think “forgive but don’t forget” can be used as an excuse to hold on to all those nasty feelings and grudges. It’s important to acknowledge what we’ve been through and learn from it, but holding on to all those emotions will hurt us and can keep us from showing God’s mercy to others.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We are to forgive and forget. Here’s how we know that. We are to forgive AS we want God to forgive us. Do we want God to remember our offenses or to forget them as if they never happened? Then that’s HOW we are supposed to forgive.


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