Finding God's Winning Spirit

Forget Forgetting

January 10, 2014 | Greg Smith | Christianity


You have probably heard it said that as Christians, “We must not only learn to forgive, we must also learn to forget”. Even though this sounds good and is the subject of many sermons, I am not sure that this is theologically sound.

Clients often tell me that they are unable to forget the traumatic occurrences or memories of the past.  They say these memories tend to haunt them and cloud the present. As clinicians we encourage these individuals to assimilate the events of the past not simply forget them (I think it would be futile to get a plane crash survivor to forget they were in a plane crash).

Many times Christians fall into the trap of thinking that to be faithful believers they must learn to forget the wrongs they have committed and/or those who have wronged them. Often times they interpret their inability to forget the trauma of the past as an indication that they are unfaithful or disobedient to God.  This idea that we must be able to forget our past to be good followers of Christ probably comes from the common misinterpretation of Philippians 3:13-14 which quotes  Paul to say “… one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind me and stretching forward to the things which are before

The word Paul uses here for “forgetting” is the Greek word epilanqanomai which means: to forget or neglect not the Greek word klanqanomai which means:  to forget utterly. The good news here is that Paul is telling us that our goal is not to forget the things of the past but rather to neglect them. There is a big difference between being told to forget something and neglect something. To neglect the past is a choice, a choice we make in what we think about, fret about or act on.

In essence, Paul is telling us that we have a choice in how we use the past.  If we have a choice to neglect things in the past then we also have the choice to use things in the past.  In Paul’s view, both choices are to be used to move toward the goal of increasing our faith and strengthening our relationship with God.  To wipe out the past would rob us of the opportunity to learn from it.  Paul’s only warning about the past is to not let the past keep us from doing God’s work in the present – to prevent us from being who God intends for us to be.

A good example of neglecting bad events of the past can be seen in Auburn University’s 2013 turnaround football season. Some would say that this team needed to forget the miserable 3-9 season they had in 2012. When you talk to players today they will tell you that they were motivated by the negative feelings they had last year during bowl season. Remembering those feelings of the past powered them in the future. 

Paul speaks with some authority about dealing with the past. We need to remember that Paul was also Saul of Tarsus. The first martyr of the Christian church was Stephen who was one of the most outspoken leaders of the new movement. In the Book of Luke we are told of Paul’s association with Stephen's executioners and how Paul then embarked on a campaign designed to suppress the church. In Paul’s own words he "persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it" (Galatians 1:13).  It is safe to say that Paul, one of the greatest messengers for Christ, had a sordid past.

How did Paul overcome his past to become one of the strongest advocates for Christ and the New Testament Church?  The answer is not by losing his memory but rather by gaining – being transformed by the Holy Spirit. Ironically Paul used this same Roman citizenship and persecution techniques that terrorized Christians to later protect his brothers and sisters in Christ. He used what he needed from the past and neglected the rest.

I cannot say for sure that Paul saw his past as mere preparation for God’s call, but I believe it was.  As I look back at my past – the experiences, the decisions (bad and good), and the roads I have chosen to travel – I can see how God has shaped me for my call. 

It is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are free from the regret, guilt, and the pain of the past. It is then, and only then that we can then begin to explore how to use the past to better serve God today and tomorrow.  This is the essence of Philippians 3:13-14.  

Well said!!
Posted by Joelene Vickers on
This helped me a lot today awesome
Posted by Karesa on
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