Friday, 19 November 2004
We have been frequently taught to "forgive, and forget." My wife has recently told me that she has long suspected that that teaching is impractical. We have been taught that we need to forgive those who have offended us and then we also need to "forget" the offenses.
Forgiveness is obviously what we are taught to do as Christians (Matthew 6:11ff, 18:21-22). Sometimes, it is not hard to forgive it once. However, if the offense is recurring, it is hard for us to forget because the problem is forever before us. It is also hard to forgive if the offense is intense. Since we have memory, we have a tendency to regurgitate the offense. We may replay how the offender wronged us in our mind like a movie. Our memory is persistent. Also, we have also found that the more we try to forget, the more we will remember it. For some, by God's help, it is possible that we can forget. However, I am interested in exploring what can really help us when we cannot forget. What can we do when we cannot even forget what our spouse has done against us be it minor verbal offense or infidelity? In the end, I may even say this (re)discovery is the solution for all people at all time and this is not entirely new. The solution I am suggesting is old.
Nowadays, we will put people through counseling when brothers and sisters have problems with other people (or things). However, can we imagine a world before (sick-man) Freud? Can we imagine a world before Freud and company feed psychology and counseling psychology to the Church? How did the Church do it before?
In fact, it is very simple: Church Discipline, Sacraments, and Doctrines. Since forgiveness is a command of God, if we cannot forgive (in fact, may be "unwilling" is a more suitable word), we should be put under discipline. That is one way to help us to submit to our Lord. Of course, there are alternatives. Our dilemma can be resolved with good biblical teachings (i.e. doctrines). There might be more that can help us to learn forgiveness, but I will put forward two points.
(1) Christ the Savior: When we cannot forgive, we can acknowledge that no matter what the other party does now to compensate, it is not sufficient. Since our memory can stay for a long long time, when we cannot forget (and thus forgive), we can acknowledge forgiveness is only sufficiently paid off on the Cross. Only Christ's death is sufficient to bear all of our sins and offenses. The offender's offenses against us is no more and no less than offenses done against God Himself and all offenses of God's people against one another is paid off on the Cross. This happened 2,000 years ago. This ultimate forgiveness can now be applied to us (continually) only when the Holy Spirit applies Christ's accomplished salvation unto our heart. In hearing the Gospel every time, we are given an opportunity to forgive just as we are forgiven because Christ has paid off our debt.
Christ's death on the Cross is the only sufficient basis for offenses against us to be paid once-and-for-all, not what the offending party can do afterwards. (Sometimes, they cannot. The other times they may not.)
(2) Christ the Judge: How about if the offending party is not believers? If they will convert later on, we are going back to point (1). We can know that forgetting the incident is also not a good way to solve the problem. The only sufficient solution can only be found in the Final Judgment when every injustice is revealed and peace and justice may come upon the People of God. The Final Judgment is the time when the evil and the good, the sheep, and the goats will be separated. We can always have this hope to look forward to that time to see that justice can be served. God will not forget offenses done against us for He is just. He is not a powerless lover-boy that we prefer Him to be.
Christ did not pay for all the offenses in this world, and a part the offenses will be paid for by the offenders at the Final Judgment.
These two points serve as our hope and the ways out of our own problems. "Forgive, and Forget," in fact, is a human way to seek solution in ourselves. It depends on our own ability to forgive and our own ability to forget. However, a better way is through the Cross and the Final Judgment. This is how counseling was done in the history of the Church through hymns, disciplining, catechizing, preaching, baptism, and the Lord's Supper, etc. Our Bible is sufficient that prepares us to do good work and all these things in the Church are designed to bring the grace of God to us in various forms of the Word.
I am suggesting instead of looking upon Freud for our solutions, why don't we recover our perfect hope strengthened by the Word in Christ the Savior and Christ the Judge. Counseling is a function of the Church, it is doctrinal and it is more theological than we think. It does not belong to the world. It can only properly be done by those within the Body of Christ.
Note 1: Am I dismissing the contributions of various psychologists or psychiatrists in the Church? No, there are always difficult cases that they can help, but I think we need to think again how we need to do it today. With a low view of preaching, and a low view of the Church, there are much we need to re-learn from the history of the Church.
Note 2: LP has reminded me of link between forgivenes and forgeting as in Exodus 34:9. That context is talking about what God does, but the article here focuses more on what we can do, or a better way to do it.
Additional Resources: CCEF, Powlisons's Seeing With New Eyes (books he recommends), Journal of Biblical Counseling, Welch's When People Are Big and God is Small, Tripp's Shepherding Your Child's Heart, Books Recommended by Paul Tripp, ...