Perhaps you’re familiar with the saying “forgive and forget.” This concept takes its cue from God’s Word in Jeremiah 31:34: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” God chooses to forget the sins of the people he loves. And we would do well to do the same. Marriages are happiest when we forgive our spouses and forget the offenses. The relationship between parent and child doesn’t work well when keeping score. But that doesn’t mean we should forget everything anyone does against us. The bedrock of the Christian faith is that Jesus forgives our sins, and we in turn forgive one another. But that doesn’t necessarily mean to go back to the same situation, especially when there’s no remorse from the other party.
The apostle Paul wrote this to his young protégé Timothy: “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:14-16). Notice Paul doesn’t want it held against the people whose fear or indifference kept them from coming to Paul’s aid. But about Alexander, Paul wrote, “The Lord will repay him.” That sounds like the words of a man wounded enough to make it impossible to forget but who is assured God sees the situation and will take care of it in his time, thereby alleviating the need for retaliation.
In fact, it was while studying the apostle Paul’s journeys last year that I realized Paul walked away . . . a lot. When he met opposition, when people beat him or chased him out of town, he didn’t fight back. He moved on, giving all he had to the next people who would or would not accept him.
Paul is the man who wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). “If it is possible” suggests there will be times when peace is not possible.
And that is when it’s crucial that we learn. Paul remembered Alexander and warned Timothy and anyone else reading the letter to steer clear.
In the Bible, David, long before securing the throne as the second king of Israel, saw that the first king of Israel intended to kill him. David left rather than stay to provoke him.
And Samson would have done well to not forget his live-in girlfriend’s previous attempts to strip him of his power and hand him over to the Philistines. His attitude, whether forgive and forget or arrogance that he couldn’t be overpowered or something entirely different, led to his demise.
It’s improbable that we’d forget the wounds that cut deep. Forgive, yes. Refuse to pay evil for evil, of course. But forget? No. Better to learn. Learn by the hatred of others to love well; learn to be teachable when others refuse to bend; learn humility when others parade sinful arrogance; learn to step up and defend the powerless when you, like Paul, are left alone in persecution. And learn when it’s time to walk away from ungodly behavior and put the situation in God’s powerful hands.