December 17, 2017

The Good Shepherd is the Forgiver of My Sin

Sandy Hartman

Be a Forgetful Forgiver

Forgetfulness is rarely a quality that people are proud to possess. Frequently, forgetfulness is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s or the beginning of senility. In other scenarios people ascribe it to a lack of character or low intelligence (and to the person doing the forgetting, it can certainly seem that way).

However, in the Christian realm forgetfulness can become a valuable asset, especially when it comes to forgiveness. Paul wrote, “Forgetting those things which are behind, … I press toward the mark” (Phil. 3:13, 14). Forgetting involves setting aside past hurts and wrongs as well as failures. God Himself forgives and forgets: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34; cf. Heb. 10:17). Furthermore, He admonishes us to do the same: “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).

In my own life, the Heavenly Father brought both an opportunity to practice godly forgetfulness and to receive a special lesson from it. Some years ago a lady in my church had once been a friend but became an enemy. Bluntly speaking, this woman had mastered the art of gossip. But friendship built on gossip never stands. Too late I broke away from the friendship, and then found myself the target of her tongue.

This woman managed to rally others to her side and basically make my life miserable. In response, I carried the hurt and nursed my wounds in anger. Before I knew it, my ongoing irritation led to bitterness. Worse, my own bitter attitude was rubbing off on others.

Eventually I realized that I was hurting myself. I couldn’t do anything to change the situation, so I spent time in prayer and Bible study asking God’s help. The situation worsened, but I determined to leave it in God’s hands.

I’m a schoolteacher, and at the end of the year I routinely take down the pictures from my classroom walls. That particular year, while I worked, God impressed on me my need to take down all the hurt and spiteful things that this woman had done to me.

Of course, the offenses were sometimes as easily remembered as dismissed, and I would have to consciously choose to dismiss them again. As I found them hanging like pictures on the walls of my memory, I realized the key to keeping them out of mind for good. I simply memorized Scripture, and each time I was tempted to leave them hanging there in view I would recite a Bible verse.

One particular Scripture was a particular help to me because it was both relevant and long. By the time I finished quoting it, I forgot for a while which monster I was tempted to release. That passage is Philippians 4:8: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever thing are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Through this process I learned to conquer the anger and hatred that leads to bitterness. Eventually I was able to forgive the woman, to be kind to her, and to talk with her so that any lingering hard feelings between us could be resolved. Only God could have brought this about, and I praise Him for a trial that turned into a triumph because of His great forgiveness.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). His forgiveness becomes our example and allows us to forgive in turn. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Sandy Hartman served as a Christian school teacher for over twenty years and is now a freelance writer. She resides in Belvidere, Illinois.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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