My initial thought process was something along the lines of, how could it ever be "difficult" to be forgiven? It requires nothing from us to "be" forgiven, and it should give us nothing but freedom, joy, and even relief. I mean, just look at Romans 4:7-8. Or go read through Psalm 32 - that should provide a pretty clear answer - especially when the heading in our Bibles for that Psalm reads, "Blessed are the Forgiven." Do I even need to mention that verses 3 & 4 even further support the argument? To "be" forgiven seems to be far easier than to be on the other side of the equation, doesn't it? When forgiving someone, I am the one that has to be "ok" with what was done to me. I'm the one that has to "look past" whatever it is that I'm forgiving. How could the difficulty of being forgiving ever be compared with being forgiven?
But the more I think about it, the more I believe that both can be difficult. It can be very common to find ourselves struggling with either side of the "forgiveness exchange," and I believe it's rooted in a completely false view of what forgiveness actually is. There is a widely-used statement when speaking on this topic - "Forgive and Forget." It's short, simple, and easy to remember...but I honestly think it gives us the wrong picture of how to forgive & what it means to be forgiven. Think about it...when someone deeply wrongs us, even if our heart is completely forgiving toward that person & what they did - do you ever really forget what they did to hurt you? Does it ever truly leave your memory as a human? Or when we deeply wrong someone else...even after we are truly repentant & seek their forgiveness (and they insist that they have forgiven us) - aren't there times where we still think about what we said or did to hurt that person? Do we still wonder at times if they have really forgiven us for what we have done? And then to think about God's point of view - is it even possible for an all-knowing, infinite God to literally "forget" our sins? Is that really what He does when forgiving us - forget our transgressions? Is that what we, then, are supposed to do when forgiving others? Forgive & Forget?
The answer is no. Because outside of blaming it on old age or amnesia, it is simply impossible for us to completely forget - whether it's something that was done to us or by us. If we think of forgiveness in this way, we will never experience the freedom that is supposed to be gained. Instead of the relief & joy of being forgiven, we will only continue to feel chained to our guilt because we can't "forget" what we did. Instead of the release we gain when forgiving someone who has wronged us, we will only continue to slowly grow roots of bitterness because we can't "forget" their words or actions. Neither party can ever truly move forward this way...to attempt to "forgive and forget" is to never understand true forgiveness at all. Let me try to explain why I believe this.
Forgiveness between us as humans is only possible because it's rooted in God's forgiveness toward us. So in order to gain a correct understanding of forgiveness in general, it's crucial to first understand how God forgives. Take a look at these verses from another Psalm:
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.
You know what I don't read in those verses? That God forgets about my sin. But what does He do - He completely and totally removes, or separates, my sin from me when I confess & am repentant. And here's the key - when He forgives us, our sin no longer affects our relationship with Him. Look at the beginning of the passage - "He does not deal with us according to our sins." When God forgives us, instead of "forgetting" our sin - He chooses to never bring it up against us again. He chooses to never deal with us in a way that is directly connected to the sin we just confessed. He chooses to never "repay" us for how we sinned against Him. That doesn't mean we never face the consequences of our sin, but it does mean that He never "holds it against us." To me, this is so much more amazing than if He was able to simply "forget" my sin. How is it an act of true love to not "deal with us according to our sins" if He can't even remember them in the first place? How is it truly grace if He can just wipe His memory clean like some computer? He forgives us in His infinite love and mercy.
But how can a holy God do this so easily? How can He just seemingly "overlook" sin if He is perfectly righteous? Well, it wasn't easy for Him...and He never "overlooks" it. The only reason He can forgive so freely is because it is based on the perfect, once and for all sacrifice that was made by His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. Forgiveness isn't free - our sin created a debt & demanded a payment. But God, in Christ, has already made that payment in full. It is finished!
So when we forgive someone who has deeply wronged us...it isn't our obligation to "forget" what happened. When we deeply wrong someone else & have received their forgiveness, we don't have to "forget" the past in order to move on. No, instead we need to view forgiveness the way God does. We separate the sin from the sinner & no longer view them through their sin. When we are forgiving, we promise to never hold those words or actions against that person again. We don't use it as a guilt trip on them, or a bargaining tool. We don't let it affect our relationship with that person ever again. When we are forgiven, we understand that we don't have to keep trying to prove how sorry we really are. We don't have to continually beat ourselves up for the wrong we've done. When we never allow ourselves to move past the sins we've been forgiven from, we are forcing the relationship to still be affected by that sin, therefore hindering the exchange to fully take place.
So is it harder to be forgiving or forgiven? Well, when we follow the example of Christ, the answer should really be "neither." Because practicing true forgiveness allows us to experience the heart of God. It allows us to free ourselves from bitterness toward someone. It gives us overflowing joy & deep relief when we receive forgiveness from someone we have hurt. One of the most amazing, beautiful, "God things" to experience in this life is the true reconciliation that comes from seeking for & receiving forgiveness from another person. Let's not imprison ourselves by trying to "forgive & forget." Instead, let's pray for the love of Christ to motivate us to forgive the way He does, and to live as forgiven people, because "there is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!" (Romans 8:1)