Psychology of Forgiveness

Day 1 of 4 • This day’s reading

‘Remembering an event, a situation, or a person can evoke a shiver of excitement, the heat of anger, or the anguish of grief.  Although emotion that is activated by a memory may not be felt as intensely as the actual experience, the recall can be enjoyable or painful nonetheless. Emotional memory adds credibility to the notion that thoughts can trigger emotion just as the activation of emotion can create cognitions’ (Lerner & Keltner, 2000; Lewis, 2008).

Forgiveness is a beautiful yet challenging command for all Christians. We bask in the forgiveness that Christ gave us; on the proviso that we forgive those who offend, sin and trespass against us.

While it is very easy to passively forgive an offender, with a simple ‘I forgive you’, the challenge comes when you are reminded of their offence every time you see them. Or when you find it hard to get rid of that negative memory. Sometimes these recurring memories and feelings make you question whether you have really forgiven them or not. 

Thankfully, the command is to forgive and not necessarily to forget, because let’s face it — it is virtually impossible to forget certain experiences whether good or bad. 

Yet, how gracious is Our Father God: "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:34 NIV). 

Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”. God separates the offence from the offender. But on a human level this may seem impossible because we may remember what someone did to hurt us for as long as we live. Though, this is not always a sign of unforgiveness; it can simply be that the offence is the most salient memory you have with that individual.