Forgive, forget and reconcile. Must these three come together?
If there is this person whom I think I have forgiven, but I am not sure because I could not forget it, and I can’t see how there could be reconciliation, have I then forgiven? In the extreme case of rape for example: one can forgive, but not forget and there is definitely no reason to reconcile. So, what is forgiveness?
Matthew 6:12, 14-15
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Matthew 18:21-22, 35
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him.
But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.
If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Greek word for the verb forgive is aphiemi, (to cancel, pardon, remit, forgive) and apoluo (release, set free, pardon, let go, send away, dismiss). To forgive is a command, something we must do, no question about it.
There is no mention of forgetting in relation to forgiveness in the bible. It is certainly not easy to forget something that has left an indelible mark in our lives. I do not think God commands us to forget, but to let go, to dismiss the wrongdoing every time it comes to mind, instead of nursing it. It is to forgive, not really to altogether forget, which would sometimes be quite impossible to achieve.
Reconciliation is the great doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and men. The word "to reconcile" means literally to exchange, to bring into a changed relationship. It is between God and man. What about between ourselves? The only other time it is mentioned in the NT that is non-doctrinal is in Matthew 5:23-24.
23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
What is interesting about this verse is how we can interpret it. According to the ISBE, the whole statement is not a question of the one who is offering the gift laying aside his enmity against his brother, but the reverse. Christ says, "if you remember (not that you have a grudge against your brother but) that your brother has something against you"--the brother was the offended one, he is the one to be brought round--"leave your offering and go, first be reconciled to your brother.” Plainly it means that he should do something to remove his brother's displeasure and so bring about reconciliation.
Let’s analyse the phrase “your brother has something against you”. It would most probably mean that you have done him wrong which caused his displeasure, or it can also mean that he just do not like you. In both cases, go and get reconciled: easier on the first, not so on the second.
What if you are the other brother, and someone has done wrong against you? If he comes and apologise, asking for forgiveness and reconciliation, well and good. But what if he does not? Looking at the above verses on forgiveness, Jesus did not mention anything about your perpetrator coming to apologise. He even asked the Father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). So there is no two ways about it, we still have to forgive whether or not the other person is sorry.
But what about reconciliation?
I do not think reconciliation can be forced, as much as if we do not confess our sins before God, there can be no reconciliation. Within the body of Christ, the Church, reconciliation among brethren is expected, mirroring our reconciliation with the Father. If there is no reconciliation, the body is not a body. Therefore, on our own part, we need to work towards reconciliation but if it is rejected, the body remains maimed. And it is difficult work. Forgiveness is internal. We make a decision to forgive and we do it. But to reconcile is external. We will need to work through the many layers of masks, defense mechanisms, screens, falsehood, pretense to get to reconciliation.
But out of the body of Christ, I do not think there can be true reconciliation. The love of Christ can be shared but we can never be reconciled to something we do not belong to in the first place. But that does not solve the problem. Love is another bewildering thing as much as it is as easy as “I love you”. How to love someone who hates you? How to love someone who abuses you? How to love someone who raped you? How to love someone who murdered your family? To further probe the issue, can justice be considered love?