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Forgive and Forget

The Relationship Model

Forgive and Forget. No, Forgive and Reconcile.

Imagine that time that someone wronged you at work. Although the person never apologized or even acknowledged his or her wrongdoing, you had to struggle through your feelings to the point where you were able to forgive. Of course, you couldn’t tell the offender that you forgave, because it would have been an insult to the person who won’t acknowledge the wrong.

Like almost every other Christian in the world you were taught to forgive and forget. You were able to manage the forgive part, but you haven’t forgotten. Mostly because the relationship is still broken. Somehow your forgiveness set you free, but it didn’t restore the brokenness. Why can’t you forget?

You can’t forget, because it really happened. And the idea that you should put it behind you refers to forgiveness, not to forgetting. The truth is that Christians have adopted a process that isn’t found in the Scriptures. What the Lord actually teaches is found in the well-known Matthew 18 passage. That is: Forgive and reconcile.

The problem with reconciliation is that it involves confrontation, the challenge to the offender that starts with a private confrontation built on the foundation of a forgiving heart. Confrontation is hard to do and easy to put off. In fact, we are sometimes made to feel that confrontation is unforgiving!

If the private confrontation doesn’t result in acknowledgement, the next step is another confrontation, but this time with two or three witnesses to your effort to reconcile. The final step is challenging the person to stand before a third party who will decide the matter between you. This is about as far from “forgive and forget” as you can get. But it’s difficult. Not confronting and leaving the relationship broken is easier and far more common. Confronting in order to reconcile requires a commitment to the person who caused the pain. Forgiveness is for your peace of mind. Confrontation for reconciliation is for the other person and for the relationship. Confrontation requires tough love. And tough love is tough to find.

It’s forgiveness that leads to confrontation of the wrong. It’s confrontation that leads to acknowledgement. It’s acknowledgement that leads to making amends. It’s making amends that produces justice. It’s forgiveness and justice that produces reconciliation.

Why didn’t God just forgive us? Why did God kill His Son? Why didn’t God say, “I made the rule that the soul that sins shall die? I guess I can change the rule.” Why didn’t God say, “I forgive you, but I’m sure not going to let my Son die over it”. Because forgiveness alone would have helped only God, but justice that was satisfied by the death of Christ is what reconciled us to God. It’s reconciliation that God was after, not just forgiveness.

God still doesn’t forget. God confronts us with the Law, with the reality of our sin. God forgives us for what we cannot do but expects us to go forward with a faith that is translated into fulfilling God’s expectations of us. “Love God” and “love your neighbor” are God’s two great expectations of us. Those expectations don’t evaporate with God’s forgiveness for our failing to do our job. “What shall we say then? Shall we sin that God’s grace may abound?” Paul asks. By no means.

When wrong happens in the work place, the common thing is to urge the victim to “forgive and forget.” That may finally result in the victim finding peace, but then, sadly, little or no effort is given to reconciliation. That’s the hard part that we like to avoid and that we justify with that cute, unbiblical phrase, “Forgive and forget.”

The next time you hear someone say, “Forgive and forget.” respond, “No, forgive and reconcile.” Then watch the puzzled look on your co-worker’s face turn to deep introspection. You might have to support your friend through the long, slow process that follows. The path toward reconciliation is painful, like the way of the Cross. But there’s nothing quite like the miracle of reconciliation.

Les Stahlke, President/CEO
GovernanceMatters.com Inc.