Midweek Lent 2012
March 28, 2012
“Can We Really Forgive and Forget”
John 8.2-11; Jeremiah 31.31-34
Can we really forgive and forget? The human mind is a remarkable, if not frustrating, thing. We forget the things we desperately want to remember and we remember the things we want to forget. For example, we can’t remember where we put our car keys a half hour ago, yet we can’t forget a slight from 20 years ago. Of course, we don’t have the emotional attachment to our car keys we do to our relationships; well, maybe that’s not the best example, but you understand what I mean. I think one of the most sinister hoaxes perpetrated on us by our society is the so-called need for “closure.” If by closure we mean a past event that is over and done with, tied up in a bow, I want none of it. I’m sorry, but life just doesn’t work that way and the idea of closure puts undue burdens and expectations on us.
Can we really forgive and forget? I think there are times we are obligated to remember, when we must not forget. The issue is not whether we can forget or not, because we can’t; the issue is how we remember. However, before I talk about what this means and how we might do it, I want to talk briefly about those times we actually do forget. One of the things we tend to forget are those very small grievances, the ones we normally forget about because they are too trivial to bother with. Somebody might even apologize and we’ve already forgotten about it. Yet, we can also forget the overwhelming hurts, the ones our mind blocks out in self-defense until we can deal with them. Sexual abuse as a child or horrific torture could fall into this category.
Finally, there are those things that we are still fighting about after many but have forgotten the reason, such as family feuds. My mom and her sister had a falling out and didn’t speak to each other for years. After my mom died, I had an opportunity to ask my aunt what it was all about and she couldn’t even remember. To be fair, I’m pretty sure the problem was mostly on my mom’s end. I think there are nations that are still fighting yet don’t remember the original causes.
But what about those hurts that we don’t deserve or even the ones we commit on others? Can we forget those? Frankly, not only do I think it’s impossible to forget them; sometimes it’s downright dangerous to do so. I’m reading James Michener’s book, Texas, and you can hardly read a book about Texas without reading about the Alamo. “Remember the Alamo!” was the rallying cry after the mission fort was overrun by Santa Ana’s troops. Although the “Texians” shouted that battle cry for vengeance, the reality is that there are certain atrocities that are so horrific we dare not forget them because we don’t want to repeat them. The Holocaust of the Jews, apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the US, domestic abuse, and the Dakota Uprising of 1862 are just a few of those events we must not forget.
But, what do we make of our scripture readings tonight, especially the passage from Jeremiah telling us how God promises to forget our sins? Let’s look at the John 8 text first about the woman caught in adultery. Typically, this story is interpreted to emphasize Jesus’ judgment of the judgers and forgiveness of the woman, but I think there is more to it than that. It is a rich text. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees is that, in their pride and arrogance, they have made the woman an object, using her for their own purposes to get at Jesus. They don’t care about her or even her sinfulness. They are using her. I think that Jesus hopes they will not forget they are sinful, human beings as much in need of compassion as she.
Just as surely, Jesus doesn’t want the woman to forget her sins. Otherwise, she might head down the same path again and find herself in a bad situation. In other words, Jesus wants new life for both the religious leaders and the woman. We might add ourselves in there, too. That’s what Jeremiah is expressing in the promise from God to “remember our sin no more.” For God, forgiving and forgetting means not letting our sins stand in the way or our relationship with him and with each other. For God to forgive and forget means that God feels the same way about us now as before. It’s as if God has forgotten that we had sinned at all. Forgiveness means working through the pain and the hurt of the offense against us. God does that most fully by taking all of our hurts and pain into himself through the cross of Jesus Christ.
We cannot move beyond the hurt and the pain when we objectify and hate people or use them for our own agendas. I’m sure you remember the death of Osama bin Laden. Whatever we think of him and what he did, we should not cheer his death. Certainly, what he did deserved punishment, perhaps even death, but killing someone is not an occasion joy, no matter who the person is or what they did. Having to kill someone indicts us as much as it indicts the person. Hating someone for what he or she did to us holds us prisoner; trying to forget that it happened keeps us there. Anger is one thing, but consuming hatred is something else because hatred does not provide hope. We have the power to forgive only what we remember. Not forgiving brings death, not life. We may not forget, but through forgiveness, our lives become bigger than any one act in that life. Through God’s forgiveness, God looks at us as if we hadn’t sinned. Where is God calling you to do the same, to look on another with compassion and understanding, to heal the relationship? May God’s forgiveness bring you to the larger, new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.