Forgetting is a universal human experience. Without the help of friends, photographs, and videos to help us recall events, a few years of life can be reduced to thirty minutes of storytelling. We forget more than we remember. In scripture, the word remember sits in contrast to the word forget. The scripture commands us to not forget God’s covenants, God’s acts, and the poor.
The significance of the word remember in the Old Testament is marked by its location and connection to the word covenant. In effect, we are to remember God’s promises, both conditional and unconditional. There are also many calls to remember the acts of God, particularly in the Exodus event.
The scripture, by example, is instructive on the importance of training the memory for the sake of self-understanding. Self-understanding is accomplished through remembering
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
- Soren Kierkegaard -
Self-reflection along with the forming and telling of personal stories is a universal human activity. It is how we communicate who we understand ourselves to be. It is a healthy activity to collect one’s own personal experiences into a melody of storytelling that helps others on their life journey.
Some memories, particularly memories of abuse, or traumatic experiences can capture the power of memory and bind us to a moment for the rest of our lives. Learning to hold these memories as part of our history but not definitive for our value or role as a human being requires the accumulation of redeeming stories from the life of the victim, the life of others, and scripture. Scripture is a valuable aid with its many stories of injustice, the human experience of suffering, role reversals, and forgiveness.
Those memories stamped upon the mind by the presence of evil, pain, and the suffering of injustice in the world need to be trained, less the sufferer lose their self to a moment.
Training the Memory
The scripture abounds with stories of humanity that identify with the universal problems we face as human beings. Helping a person identify with a biblical narrative in a positive way enables their understanding of self to find health in an otherwise unpleasant circumstance. I will offer an example using the story of Ruth.
Living in the Philippines it is common to see young women marry men thirty and occasionally even forty years younger. The book of Ruth offers them a story of redemption.
Ruth is a young woman who loves her mother-in-law. Ruth’s husband is passed away. Ruth and her mother-in-law live in a society where land ownership is passed on to males, excluding childless women (whether barren or because they outlived their children) from the power and wealth derived from owning land.
Ruth’s mother-in-law is too old to attract a man, but she counsels Ruth on how to gain the attention of a wealthy older man. Naomi has no one to redeem her land and it cannot be passed onto her. Upon gaining the attention of Boaz, a wealthy landowner related to the family, who can redeem the land (become the owner), Naomi counsels Ruth on the final steps of seduction of the older man.
Naomi counsels Ruth to uncover Boaz and ‘lie down at his feet’ which is a euphemism for intercourse; it seems Boaz awakens to find Ruth as already begun. The story of Ruth is a story of injustice, a widow is deprived of owning the husbands ancestral land. Her only hope is that a male relative takes ownership and thereby take responsibility for Naomi and in this case Ruth also. It is a story of female seduction, of a younger woman giving her self to a man in order to preserve the life of a woman she has taken as her mother. It is not a love story. This does not mean that Ruth could not learn to love Boaz.
A subversive reality in the story of Ruth is the real identity of the kinsman redeemer. This is so because it is Ruth, a Moabite - a people of corrupt sexual mores in Israelite thought – who redeems the life of Naomi out of love. Boaz is an honorable man in relation to the law, but benefits from the injustice of inheritance laws.
The story of Ruth is relatable to the Filipino woman’s experience because young women marry older men for the sake of the family, of father and mother, of brother(s) and sister(s). It is further encouraging because Jesus is in the lineage of Ruth. In a crooked world, the woman who loves enough to marry an older man in order to care for her loved ones is an honorable and loving woman.
It is notable that scripture is primarily a collection of stories. Even the wisdom book of Job is a story. Jesus told stories and the gospels record Jesus’ life as stories. The book of Acts is a collection of theologically structured stories. The epistles enable us to enter deeper into the stories of Paul, James, Peter and the early church. Revelation is like a fairy tale.
Collecting our own Story
How we tell our stories, stories taken from our life experiences, becomes who we are. Storytelling trains the memory, we remember because we hear ourselves speak as we engage another person with our story, or we read our own writing of a story. A healthy person will find in their stories identity forming lessons, identity enforcing lessons, and a sense of providence amidst the confusion of life’s absurdities.
At times life can undergo unexpected change and a person must reorient their stories to understand their evolving experience. Events like the death of a spouse, an undesired divorce, loss of health, or some calamity all require self-reflection that enables one to move forward. Naomi and Ruth both experienced life-changing calamity and acquired new identities as they moved forward with life.
The ‘magic’ of a story is in its flexibility. We attach ideas, emotions, beliefs, loyalties, and our own identity to stories. Yet, they can be retold with the same honesty in which they were first told while revealing new insights related to the changing realities of life.
Our stories that we share should always be uplifting and enforcing our self-worth as a member of the human family. Specifically, they should bolster our faith; our stories should incorporate how we find God in the world. They should indicate to others how we expect to be treated; they should reveal our strengths and weaknesses. Our stories we share tell people who we’ve been, how we responded to life, and who we seek to become.
Forgiveness makes the world work because it is a creative force, a power released that can heal the past, accept the present, and move toward hope for a better future. Forgiveness, like a story, is ‘magic’, it reorients the world to newness. Forgiveness requires a willingness to forget.
Although crimes against humanity in the course of human history must be recalled in stories and should not be forgotten, a healthy person cannot remain in the past but must let go and seek life. They must fill their memory with new, stories of ongoing life.
Forgiving and Spiritual Maturation
The administering of grace is a sign of spiritual maturation. To be merciful is to display God in public. To forgive is divine; it is the power that unleashes creation, that lifts the soul from self, that challenges us to move forward, and requires the suffering of our ego. Forgiveness releases God into our lives, into the quagmire of human relationships that become entangled in a quandary of emotions and self-justifying stories.
Forgiveness can be seemingly impossible for a trauma survivor whose soul has been intruded upon by evil; they need the loving therapy of a community of believers who can help them produce new stories. Forgiveness can be easy for the rest of us. This is so because it brings forgiveness to us and we all need to be forgiven.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Although forgiving puts us at risk in relation to another, it is a risk that Jesus requires us to take. This is the abiding power of a Christ-like person, the willingness to risk for the sake of other human beings in need of forgiveness; while recognizing their own self-justifying reasons for not doing so are inconsistent with the Spirit of the Lord.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness is the economy of the divine presence.
The flourishing of life is dependent upon forgiveness. Forgiveness is rooted in the belief that people can change and that in choosing to do so they receive God into their life. As human beings, we all need an environment where forgiveness is recognized as an indispensable need in order to ensure the presence of God’s goodness and blessing.
Forgiveness is the first step towards genuine reconciliation in any relationship.
Learning to Forget
Forgetting isn’t an immediate gift, memories aren’t instantly erased. Forgetting requires a continual willingness to start over, to build again, to treat the other as God treats us, as forgiven. Forgetting is an act of faith in the Christian belief that people can be changed by forgiveness because to forgive is divine and brings God into the world.
Understanding the cost of not forgetting is imperative for learning to forget. Forgetting is a process that begins with faith; its first act is to forgive. The world doesn’t work without forgiveness. Holding another person hostage with an unforgiving heart is a self-inflicting form of bondage that denigrates the Spirit of Christ.
Learning to forgive is learning to willingly choose to forget, to let go of the memories that inhibit the forward movement into newness of life. The memory arises but it is sat aside by an act of the will and not allowed to interfere with the present moment.
In the ongoing effort to justify ourselves, we often recall events and expose (in our minds) the blindness of those who caused us pain. If a person is to be free from such patterns of thought and gain a sense of forgiveness they must silence such moments and choose to remember better moments. Ultimately only the grace to forgive can heal the torment of discomfort from living in a world of failure.
The complexities of human relationships produce a multiplicity of views and stories relative to how we understand our role in a circle of family or friends. The establishing of a single narrative ignores the competing narratives of others. A mature person recognizes the validity of every person’s story and seeks an ethical resolution to conflict that is situated, just, gracious and conducive to life; without forgiveness this effort will fail.
Vindication isn’t possible in complex human relationships, only forgiveness can correct the soul-destroying-desire to be right, to be innocent. We all walk around broken in relation to someone we love and vindication is out of reach. Recognizing that it is God who releases us from the pain of a broken relationship through our own act of forgiving the other is to access the divine and all of its creative potential in the present.
The cost of un-forgiveness blackens the heart, distorts the face, and consumes possibilities for life.
The world doesn't work without forgiveness.
A follower of Jesus was walking in the way of the Lord and responded to a man who sought to justify himself and exclude those members of his family who had offended him. The follower of Jesus responded, "The world doesn't work without forgiveness."
He sought further to justify himself and answered, "I've been hurt and I must protect myself." The follower of Jesus who walked in the way of the Lord responded, "Jesus was also hurt."
The man responded, "But Jesus never hurt anyone." The follower of Jesus who walked in the way of the Lord said, "Were you not born into the world the Lord made? Were you not victim to sin long before you became a perpetrator? Do you suppose yourself to be righteous beyond others? Have you not read how Jesus wrote in the sand?"
Please explain said the man. Responding, the follower of Jesus who walked in the way said, "Life is like sand and it is easy to hide one's self in the shifting sands of interpersonal relationships, it is easy to impose guilt on the other and be blind to your own. Remember, there is one who writes in the sand. For this reason, I have said that the world doesn't work without forgiveness."
 Holocaust survivors and those who write about the holocaust have high rates of suicide.
 Trauma is a complex subject that I do not seek to address thoroughly in this blog. I recommend: God and the Victim: Traumatic Intrusions on Grace and Freedom by Jennifer Erin Beste.