By Cindy Koch –
We hear it all the time: to really forgive is to forget it ever happened. If you don’t forget, then you must have a problem with your forgiveness. If you still remember the pain someone caused you, then you had better repent; you are not forgiving.
That sounds great and all. I mean, we love to beat ourselves up with the Law every chance we get. And it also makes for a super catchy saying when we are uncomfortable in a situation. We throw that phrase out there and wrap ourselves in guilt and pride according to our abilities. But the reality is that forgiveness doesn’t depend on you.
Really, it doesn’t. If you are not feeling happy, you will forgive. If you are angry at another, you will forgive. If you remember the pain they caused you, you will forgive.
Forgiveness is not a feeling that rushes out of your black, hateful heart. Forgiveness is not a decision from your cold, selfish mind. Forgiveness is a Word that was poured over you.
I absolutely love a Baptism in which the baby screams and writhes as the pastor pours forgiveness all over her little head. He speaks a Word and washes her clean. He gives her a new name, claimed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He snatches that baby from the prison of her heart and mind and from the clutches of death and the devil. But she hates every second of it. Here we get to see a clear picture of the hidden battle for the children of God: messenger from God versus demon baby, on display for all to see.
And here forgiveness is so clear. Forgiveness is not a feeling that rushes out of her black, hateful heart. Forgiveness is not a decision from her cold, selfish mind. Forgiveness is a Word that was poured over a little baby girl.
As she grows, our world will try to wrestle that forgiveness away from her restored, trusting heart. They will point her away from the one thing that has been done to her: her Baptism in Christ. They will encourage her to trust her feelings or her intellect. They will ridicule her dependence on a simple gift given to a little baby girl. And then they will tell her she must forgive and forget.
And then she wonders, what happens if I can’t forget? Maybe I’m not loving enough. Maybe I’m not really forgiving my neighbor. Maybe I can’t really forgive.
The despair of her heart and mind, the lies of the devil, poison her to trust in her own ability to forgive.
Little girl, you are a child of God. Christ died and rose for you, and he gave you his forgiveness. You live free because every sin is paid for by his blood. You simply pass on that word of free forgiveness to those who disappoint you. You give his Word of love to those who make you angry. You speak his Word of life in a world of pain and death. It was not born in your heart; forgiveness is a Word that was poured over you. Even when you can’t forget.
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. (Luther’s Small Catechism)