Is it good and right to forgive and forget? Perhaps we could answer both yes and no.
Studying history while I was growing up, I used to wonder why it was necessary to learn about things that were over and in the past. But as I grew up, I came to learn the value of understanding our history, especially as nations, in order to learn from our mistakes and the negative impacts of decisions. Of course, learning about positive and successful actions and their results is helpful, too.
The same could be said for us as individuals. Mistakes made are considered useful if we learn from them and become better citizens, better friends, employees, or relatives.
But what about mistakes or decisions made by others that affect us in a negative or harmful way, as in the case of the harm inflicted by tyrannical leaders? It’s sometimes said we should never forget this type of history, in order not to become victims of such behaviors once again. In this way, we could rightly answer no to the above question. We shouldn’t forget. Such was the declaration from President Salva Kiir of the newly formed South Sudan, who spoke of the brutality his people endured at the hands of the North and said, “[W]e have to forgive, although we will not forget.”
My heart goes out to the people of South Sudan as they strive for a more peaceful and freer life. Their plight moved me to prayer, and I’ve remembered how often and completely Jesus taught us to forgive. When his disciple Peter asked how many times he should forgive his brother – “till seven times?” – Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven,” implying a complete and unceasing forgiveness (Matt. 18:21, 22). I asked myself, is it really possible to completely forgive someone for wrongdoing if I harbor any thought about what they’ve done, thus holding it to them? Is it possible to forgive in this way without being willing to forget?
I experienced abuse in my life, and although it didn’t compare to the violence inflicted on the South Sudanese people, it affected me negatively well into adulthood. For some time I had help from a Christian Science practitioner, who prayed with me in overcoming the effects of this abuse. One thing I discovered through this prayer was an increasing need not only to forgive those who hurt me, but also to forget. Forgiving was easy compared with forgetting. I resisted the latter for a long time because I felt it was necessary to always remember, so I’d never be hurt by this kind of behavior or individual again. I figured if I stayed always aware of how I got hurt, I wouldn’t let it be repeated. And conversely, that if I forgot it, then I might fall victim once more. So I held onto the memory.
What I learned, however, was that holding on only slowed and impeded my progress to peace and freedom. In time, I learned that it was not a memory of evil, but an understanding of good, God, that would keep me safe from harm. I also grew in my understanding that God is divine Love and that He governs and impels the motives of His sons and daughters, and maintains their safety from harm. The more I became willing not only to forgive, but perhaps more important to forget, the more healing, peace, and freedom I gained.
I learned it was indeed helpful and right to both forgive and to forget. This was confirmed for me in reading something Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote: “Divine Love eventually causes mortals to turn away from the open sepulchres of sin, and look no more into them as realities. It calls loudly on them ... to forgive and forget whatever is unlike the risen, immortal Love; and to shut out all opposite sense” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 292).
So, perhaps the answer to the above question could also be yes. Should we ever both forgive and forget? I believe so. While it’s important to learn from our mistakes, there are times when holding onto history can block our spiritual progress and thus our path forward. Everyone has the divine right to peace and freedom.
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