Several weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about ghosts in closets — things that people say they’ve forgiven and forgotten, but they really haven’t.
We talked about how difficult it is for people to forgive, and wondered aloud if it’s even possible. Or, if it is possible — and it must be since God tells us to forgive others “just as in Christ God has forgiven (us)” and if he tells us to do something, he always makes a way to do it — is it possible to forget?
My friend and I were really asking whether, once there’s a ghost in your closet, a haunting unforgiveness, can it ever go away, and how is that even possible?
It’s probably one of those questions without an answer, or a situation without a solution unless God does something to change the heart of the one who won’t forgive. And what about forgiving and forgetting? Can you do one and not the other?
Sometimes when you talk to someone who just wants to argue about God, he or she will ask, “Is there anything God can’t do? Can he make a rock so heavy he can’t move it?”
But other times, someone in earnest will ask about something that seems like a God-impossibility. For example, someone once asked me about the “forgetness” of God.
At first I smiled at the made-up sounding word. Maybe the person meant “forgetfulness.” But when you think about it, forgetness is probably the better word, the more God-like word. Forgetfulness is more human. “Oh, no! I forgot to buy laundry soap!” God would never forget to buy laundry soap.
Forgetness is something different.
Once someone reminded Red Cross founder Clara Barton of something hurtful done to her years before. However, she acted as if she had never heard of the incident. When someone pressed her, asking, “Don’t you remember?” she replied, “No. I distinctly remember forgetting it.” That’s forgetness.
In the Bible, God’s people are always pleading for the Lord not to remember their sins any more. God answers one ancient prophet by saying, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
When it comes to God’s forgetness, maybe his is like Clara Barton’s (or more accurately, hers is like his). Maybe he remembers that he forgets. And the times when our own guilty consciences dredge up the past and we remind him of our failures— let the ghost out of the closet? That’s when he reminds us that if we truly belong to him, he forgets our sin by choice, not because of forgetfulness or a “senior moment.”
I love that about God, and Lord knows I have a lot I need forgetness for. But he can do that because he’s God. Offering forgetness isn’t so easy for us humans who tend to keep ghosts around for haunting.
That brings me back to the conversation with my friend. I know this is true: Some people have suffered horrendous abuse or have had plain old rotten stuff done to them. I also know that God says to forgive those who “trespass against us.” I know that some people say they can’t forgive, yet God implies that we can because he says we must, which means the real issue is that we won’t. That’s how the ghosts get in the closet, and it’s our own stubborn refusal to forgive and forget that keeps them in there.
Someone once said that when you refuse to forgive, you allow the other person to control you. Bitterness and resentment bite like a snake, and it’s the one who refuses to forgive who gets bitten. But that’s not why we should forgive. We forgive because God says so. We forgive because we have been forgiven — much.
I don’t know if it’s possible to ever truly forget, but I know it’s possible to forgive, because with God, nothing is impossible. And if nothing is impossible, then that means it’s possible even to forget. So, I’ve just answered my own question.
Hey — maybe I’ve even answered yours.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.