Two smiling girls holding pinkies, who forgive and forget.

Forgiving someone who hurt us can be extremely difficult, especially when that person is (or was) very close to us. We carry pain, anger, frustration, and confusion, while we should walk in freedom. Adding to this is the guilt we can feel as Christians because we know we should forgive freely. But must we indeed forgive and forget, and where in the bible does it say so?

Is forgiving and forgetting indeed scriptural or is it a matter of speech developed over time? Forgiveness is already hard. What about forgetting? Can we, in our human nature, really do that? Let’s see what the Bible says about forgiving and forgetting.

What do they say about forgiveness?

Forgiveness means that you forgive someone who has done something bad or wrong and stop being angry with them and no longer want to punish them. Saying that we forgive someone is relatively easy, it is just a matter of words. Forgiving someone, however, goes deeper than words. It is a matter of the heart.

Often, forgiveness is a process. Wikipedia describes it as the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may initially feel victimized, undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance. This means we can choose to forgive (or not) and do this out of our free will, not because we must do it.

Now, let’s look at the stop-being-angry part. Anger can deeply hide in our hearts. If we say we have forgiven someone but resentment wells up in our hearts when we hear that person’s name, we haven’t forgiven. Anger is a dangerous emotion. It can change our moods, our behavior, our words, and even our blood pressure! Under no condition does anger help us with anything; it destroys us (not the other person) and takes away our (godly) joy.

The third part of forgiving is not wanting to punish the person anymore. This may sound funny, but it is real. We may not want to admit it, but we humans are incredibly revengeful. As Christians, we can even believe it isn’t a sin. We forgive people but also expect God to punish them for what they did to us.

Should we expect God to retaliate on our behalf?

God is a vengeful God, that is true. He avenges us when we leave it to Him. However, this does not mean we should expect Him to do it. God is a sovereign God; He knows what is best and in His time.

For me, the prime example of forgiveness is Jesus. Not just the forgiveness He freely offers us, but the way He dealt with those who persecuted Him or dealt wrongly with Him in the smallest way. Jesus even forgave the ones who would kill Him (Luke 23:24). He never stroke back, so why would we do it? Or worse, why do we expect Him to retaliate on our behalf?

God created us in His image. He designed us to be like Him and to reflect Jesus in the way we live. To forgive and forget may be difficult, but it is not impossible. We can do all things through Christ (Phil. 4:13), including forgiving others.

What God really wants us to do is pray for those who hurt us. Again, difficult, but not impossible. We should clear our hearts from every resentment and hatred towards the ones we are praying for and not pray based on our personal feelings. The best way to do this is to add “Your will be done, not mine”. This way, we submit our will to God and surrender to His will completely.

“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.”

Romans 12:14 (NLT)
Romans 12 verse 14 with pink background and flowers

Bible verse 5 in Matthew 44 adds another layer to forgiving and forgetting; it says we should even love the ones who have hurt us.

“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Matthew 5:44 (NLT)

Forgiveness sets us free

As much as it may seem to be hard to forgive others, we are the ones who will reap the benefit when we do so. Forgiving is not just biblical (obeying God), it also sets us free. Regardless of how illogical it may seem, it is through unconditional forgiveness that we let the past be the past and free ourselves to enter the present and expect the future God has prepared for us.

We shouldn’t wait until we “feel” like forgiving because that rarely happens. Quite the opposite is far more common. When we pray for those who hurt us, even if initially our hearts hurt when we do this, over time we will see that praying for them heals us and sets us free from our deepest wounds.

God designed us to forgive and then let Christ come into our lives and heal us from the pain and wounds we experienced. The healing, however, does not begin until we first forgive.

Does forgiveness require forgetting?

We often hear we should forgive and forget, but is that in the bible? Does God require us to forget the wrongdoing?

Forgiving and forgetting means deciding to stop being angry about something that someone has done to us, and not to allow our memory of it to influence our future. Forgiving heals our heart of past wrongs and forgetting heals our vision of the future. Both function in our lives.

However, forgetting is not a requirement before forgiving. I believe more often we will forgive first before we forget. Forgiveness clears the way to forget.

Forgetting may not mean we will never think of it anymore, but it means that if we think of it, we won’t allow it to hurt us again. We can remind ourselves of the fact that we forgave that person. So, I would rather say forgiveness is a requirement for forgetting. If we didn’t forgive, we will most likely not be able to forget.

So, forgetting is not a requirement for forgiveness, though both benefit us in different ways.

Where did the phrase forgive and forget come from?

Most likely, it is Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) who ‘said’ forgive and forget. The phrase comes from his 17th Century book “Don Quixote.” The proper quote is “Let us forget and forgive injuries.”

Around the same era, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used the phrase in “King Lear”: “Pray you now, forget and forgive”. Shakespeare links prayer to forgiving and forgetting, which sounds more related to the message in the Bible.

So, the origin of the phrase to forgive and forget seems not to be from the Bible, but is it also mentioned in the Scriptures?

Where in the Bible Does it Say Forgive and Forget?

Well, the phrase to forgive and forget isn’t stated in the Bible, though the message is biblical.

To me, forgiving and forgetting means I won’t dig up old hurts. God forgives us in such a way He throws our sins into the depths of the sea. Have you ever lost something in the sea? It is (almost) impossible to get it back. That is how God deals with our sins. Remember, our sins are the things we do that hurt God, like the things people did to us that hurt us. If God can throw it away, I can surely do the same.

“Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

Micah 7:19 (NLT)

Another inspiration about to forgive and forget comes from Isaiah 43 verse 25 (NLT): “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins”. If God doesn’t remember our sins, why would we remember the sins of others?

Bible verses about forgiveness

When we study the Bible for ourselves, we will meet 154 references to forgiveness and encouragement to forget the trespasses committed against us, even though the phrase forgive and forget is not literally in the Bible.  

A Bible verse that boosts our willingness to forgive and forget is in KJV, Matthew 6 verses 14 to 15:

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

It is scary to imagine God not forgiving us. So, when we are tempted to hold on to our grudges, we can remind ourselves that God will do the same thing to us if we don’t let the past go and set our trespasses free by forgiving them.

Not being ready to forgive and forget can also hinder our prayers, God urges us to forgive before we pray, as in this Bible verse in Mark:

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Mark 11:25 (NLT)

The Bible is also very clear about the power of our forgiveness, as we can see in the following Bible verse:

“If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:23 (NLT)

Let’s Pray

Thank You, Lord, for freely forgiving us. You don’t just forgive but also forget our sins if we confess them to You and repent from them. All we can say is Thank You.

Your Word, in the Bible, teaches us to do the same and Your Holy Spirit enables us to forgive and forget those who have hurt us. I am honest, Lord, it is difficult. It hurts deeply. But I choose to follow and obey You. I choose to forgive. Now, Lord, help me forget as well. If my mind dwells on past things and people who have hurt me, please help me redirect my thoughts and to look at You instead.

Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.