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Forgive? Yes! Forget? Not Necessarily.

Forgive Anyway Quote by Flickr User BK of Symphony of Love, CC License = Attribution, Share Alike

Forgive Anyway Quote by Flickr User BK of Symphony of Love, CC License = Attribution, Share Alike
Click image to open a new tab/window to view the original image and to access the user’s full photo stream at Flickr.

For as much of my life as I remember, I’ve heard that we should forgive and forget. Because of the latter half of this admonition, I’ve dealt with a lot of guilt whenever things happened that I just could not purge from my mind. I mean, how do you force yourself to forget something? But with both physical and spiritual maturity, I have realized that forgetting is not necessarily a requirement in an act of forgiveness, and forgiving when you still remember what happened may actually take more strength than trying to let go of something by simply erasing it from memory.

In today’s reading from Numbers 14:8 through Numbers 14:25, we read about the community of Israel needing to be forgiven by God. Yesterday, we saw their bad reaction to the return of spies from the Promised Land, and that they had started up again with whining to return to Egypt. Today, we see that they were so angry and frustrated with the hopelessness of facing giants in the new land that they were ready to stone Moses and Aaron, and maybe Joshua and Caleb–especially since Caleb was still trying to encourage them to be willing to fight with God on their side.

Just as they were about to take things into their own hands, the presence of God came down in a pillar of cloud to speak with Moses. He asked Moses how long the people would doubt Him in the face of all the signs and wonders He had used to prove to them that He had a plan. God even said He would destroy them all with sickness and disease, and then He said He planned to make a new nation from Moses.

But Moses began to plead with God to spare Israel and show them mercy. He didn’t beg for God to forgive them as much for their sake as for the sake of what the Egyptians would say about God if Israel was not able to enter into the Promised Land. He made the point that Egypt would hear about it because of God’s amazing deliverance of Israel from there, and that if He didn’t bring Israel to the end of the journey, the Egyptians would say He could not let them in. Moses reminded God that He had put up with them and this kind of behavior since Egypt and that He could endure it.

Imagine Moses encouraging The Almighty. He actually had a heart that wanted to protect God from being looked down on by unbelieving nations. He cared enough about God’s reputation to speak to Him as a friend who wants to protect another friend from harm generated by false accusations and slander. So when God said He spoke to Moses face to face as a friend speaks to a friend, He was seeing Moses as a true friend to Him as well as seeing Himself as a friend to Moses. How awesome is that?

As the reading comes to an end, God tells Moses that He has forgiven (not will forgive, but already has) just as Moses asked Him, but with a caveat. God says that He absolutely will not forget what the people have done after all He has had to put up with from them. He says that because they have seen His signs and His deliverance yet continued to test Him, not one of those who treated Him with contempt will see the land He promised to their ancestors. He does add, however, that because Caleb had a different spirit about Him, and because he fully followed Him, he would see the land. The chapter ends with God giving Moses a new direction for Israel to walk.

So, we can see that forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting or letting someone get away with treating us badly. God withheld a blessing from those who treated Him with contempt, but He stills said they were forgiven. Considering God was ready to totally annihilate them more than once, just going without the blessing is still a big hunk of forgiveness. Israel may not have seen it that way, and they may have complained about their lack of that particular blessing, but because we see in hindsight, we know what kind of mercy God was showing them here even if He refused to forget their misbehaviors.

I prayed for many years about the guilt I felt regarding things I remembered being done against me. Some of it did need to be dealt with by a more sincere forgiveness. Some thoughts were simply memories in the same way I have remembered tastes and smells of foods that have made me sick. I have come to believe that remembering is not necessarily a bad thing, and it can save us from setting ourselves up for a fall.

Whatever the cause of an offense in our lives, we can and should forgive the offender. We should never hold bitterness because that will bring even more damage to the situation. If the offense was done by mistake and not with cruel intentions, and then we refuse to offer another chance, that means we’re being unforgiving. Refusing to let go of hurt, especially if the hurtful thing was followed with an apology or an act of repentance, also means we are not being forgiving, and it means we need to examine ourselves. However, just because we remember a wrong done against us, does not mean we are being bitter or unforgiving, and just because we think it’s right that a person pays for a wrong done (to us or anyone else) does not mean we are unforgiving. We should always look deeper to make sure we don’t harbor an unforgiving spirit that could create a wedge between us and our Creator, but we also need to remember God’s example in today’s reading. It is always good to forgive, but it is not always good to forget.


June 2, 2014 - Posted by | Bible Study, Nonfiction, Torah Commentary | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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