Faith Forum: How can I forgive if I cannot forget?

The Rev. Peter A. Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:

How can I forgive if I cannot forget?

This is a great question because it gets to the heart of why forgiving is so difficult: No one by effort can forget anything.

I am not talking about the countless times our loved ones excuse us. Forgiveness is reserved for serious offenses that are without explanations.

Frederick Buechner puts it this way, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us.’”

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a South African woman, watched apartheid shatter the lives of black people. She knew why people called Eugene de Kock, a former colonel in the South African police force, a monster. De Kock confessed to more than 100 acts of torture and murder. For these crimes, he is serving a 212-year prison sentence.

Gobodo-Madikizela went to see de Kock in prison because she said, “I wanted to understand the notion of forgiveness in the context of so much tragedy and evil.”

Commenting on Gobodo-Madikizela’s willingness to make this journey behind prison walls, to hear de Kock’s story, Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “it took a lot of courage, just physical courage, going to sit in the same room.”

On our own it may be impossible to ever forget serious injustices done to us or to those we love. That many people feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance is understandable.

When forgiveness happens, when you are able to start anew — even if you can never forget — it is always a miracle, a gift from God.

— Send e-mail to Peter Luckey at


The Rev. Pam Morrison, pastor, Amazing Grace Community Church, 1251 E. 1900 Road:

I don’t know very many people if, when seeing a sheriff’s car by the side of the road, will purposefully begin speeding, even if they are late. Because they see the sheriff, they will, instead, obey the law and keep to the speed limit. The point is, we can make ourselves do the right thing if we have enough conviction about it.

I mention this in connection with the topic “forgiving even when you can’t forget,” because many understand it to be a “law,” a commandment. The Bible contains these words, “Forgive one another as I have forgiven you. Unless you forgive each other, your father in heaven will not forgive you.” (Matthew 6:15)

If we start from the point “I must do it,” as hard as that may sound, obedience to God does make what seems impossible easier. In fact, again, the Bible says, “What is impossible for man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

So, beyond the gift of being required to forgive (that makes me try) is the promise that God will help me with it. “I can do all things through God who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

If beyond obedience and the promise of God’s help, more encouragement to forgive is needed, the old line “being angry is like eating poison and hoping the other person will die” may help. Unforgiveness truly hurts us. The stress and high blood pressure of holding onto pain is documented.

To forgive actions that deeply hurt and can’t be forgotten requires that we shift our mind’s focus. Again, drawing from Scripture, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble … think of these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

And with all these steps, PRAY. God, who knows our weakness and our need, will help us to let go of what has caused us pain, and the beauty of time is that it makes what has been so hard to bear grow dimmer.

— Send e-mail to Pam Morrison at


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