Recently an Orlando, Florida, man took out a full-page newspaper ad to ask for his wife’s forgiveness. She had left him two weeks before, and when five dozen roses didn’t do the trick, he sent her a $17,000 apology in the Florida Times-Union, begging her to come back.
I don’t know what this man did to cause his wife of 17 years to leave him, and I don’t know if she took him back. But two things pop out at me through this story.
First, it’s easy to confuse forgiving and forgetting. Jesus said if someone sins against you, forgive them not once or twice or even three times, but 70 times seven. That’s 490 times! In other words, there should be no limit to our forgiveness; we should always forgive those who hurt us. No exceptions!
Jesus also said that if someone slaps you across the face, give them your other cheek. And if they take your coat, give them your cloak, also. However, He didn’t say to keep turning the other cheek, and then the other, until your face is black and blue. And He didn’t say to give them every item in your wardrobe until you have nothing left to wear.
In other words, Jesus did put a limit on forgetting. While we should always forgive, we should not necessarily forget. If we “forgive and forget,” as the old saying goes, we may subject ourselves to the continual abuse of others, which isn’t good for us or for them.
Second, our willingness to forgive others determines God’s willingness to forgive us. The Lord’s Prayer, known in Catholicism as the “Our Father,” reveals this fact. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He recited this prayer. One of the lines of the prayer is “… forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” So every time we pray this prayer, we give God permission to forgive us just the way we forgive other people.
God’s forgiveness is absolutely free; we don’t have to purchase an expensive newspaper ad to secure it. But we do need to be willing to forgive others as we have been forgiven. And sometimes it’s necessary to forgive others while keeping our distance — to “forgive and remember.”