"Forgive and forget." We've all heard that a thousand times. But how it plays out in our lives is more like, "Forgive, but remember what they did wrong or how you got hurt, you know, just in case they need reminded." That way, you have ammo later on to humble the proud or to defend yourself from being hurt again. The truth is, though, we deceive ourselves if we think we've offered forgiveness while choosing to remember the offenses against us.
Webster defines the act of forgiving as "ceasing to feel resentment" or "granting relief from payment of". Since we are not God and cannot physically erase memories from our consciousness, this must look more like choosing to separate the offense from the offender. As the Psalm 103 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
When we fail to forgive, we are condemning this person to be the personification of this offense for the rest of their life. With their repentance, Jesus has spoken complete grace over them, yet with unforgiveness we are acting on behalf of the enemy to shackle their soul with the very sin for which Christ died. We are essentially robbing them of the opportunity to be a new creation - whole and restored - and making a mockery of the death of our Lord as powerless to offer forgiveness for sins.
Understand, though, that forgiveness is imperative even when repentance has not occurred. Love has the power to transform a person, and forgiveness is quite possibly its most powerful vehicle. When we truly forgive, we offer love when it is least deserved. Even when the wrong cannot be made right. This does not mean we fail to acknowledge a wrong has been committed or that we ignore the pain or suffering involved (by definition the need for forgiveness merits a wrong to have taken place). On the contrary, by fully accepting the pain and choosing to walk through it without demanding recompense, we unleash the full power of love's transforming nature.
Forgiveness offers life. The Bible says that, "while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." He didn't die for the righteous, he died to forgive those who least deserved it. As the Bible says in another way, "while we were still sinners Christ died for us."
Perhaps the most powerful imagery of forgiveness is that of Christ on the cross. Talk about a fresh wound from a severe offense. These people had moments ago nailed him to a crude piece of wood, and yet, as he hung there dying he looked up toward the heavens and said, "Forgive them, Father."
Let's love the people in our lives the same way Jesus loved us, when they least deserve it and letting go of resentment even as they commit offenses against us. Then we will experience the full measure of true love, because love is forgiving.