So I'm reading an book by Catherine Claire Larson called "as we forgive". It's a compilation of life stories of those caught in the Rwandan genocide that killed over 800,000 in April of 1994. It's a shame that it was on the $3 shelf at Mardels, but if it weren't, I likely wouldn't have picked it up. And I've been turning pages at every free moment today.
In 2003, Rwandan president Paul Kagame chose to release some of the Hutu prisoners who had been jailed since the genocide. Intensely overcrowded prisons, and a fledgling remnant of society that could not have processed every prisoner's case in 200 years necessitated a move that would be unthinkable to many of us: release of some 60,000 prisoners... back into the villages where their victims were still trying to rebuild their lives. Even though they were labeled "lower level" offenders by comparison, many were still killers, and the atrocities were unbelievable.
So as I read some of their stories...victims and criminals alike, learning to live side by side, I'm fascinated. I won't share the stories.... but I will say you should hurry to Mardel's get your own copy. Although I will warn that it is not for those with a weak stomach. The sin and horror is told as it happened. For truly, you can't understand the depth of forgiveness if you can't grasp the gravity of the trespass...
These side by side daily life encounters of neighbor who killed neighbor brought me to an interesting thought. Many of us struggle with the phrase "forgive and forget". Some of us know that "forgetting" wasn't actually a biblical partner to the mandate of forgiving...yet we desperately wrestle within ourselves as if forgiveness isn't truly achieved if forgetting it all still alludes us. All of us ask the question, "But how could I forget?"
I sat tonight and thought about someone who was my biggest challenge to forgive. I remember struggling to forget for years and thinking I must not have forgiven. Now I know I can't forget. In fact, I can remember better every moment of that particular betrayal than most other memories...everything in the room, every word said, the temperature, the lighting, sights, sounds, all of it. And yet, I have forgiven, fully, wholeheartedly forgiven. I realize now that my desperate desire to forget was really a desperate desire to escape the pain of memories...sort of a wishing for the restoration of naivety...a mental escape from the reality of the potential evil in every human being, even those we think are trustworthy. (Or the fear of that same potential in ourselves.)
But, had I been granted that wish of forgetting... I would have lost the greater power connected to forgiving. What if forgiving really was connected to forgetting? Would we learn? Would we be changed? What WOULD we remember?
Thankfully, my God needs no such lessons..His love is and always was greater than my own... as far as the east is from the west, my sins are removed from me. There is no need for Him to learn something greater...but for me, oh the grace that exists in remembering! The overcoming confidence that with every memory or pain, there now exists something greater that can occlude & overshadow even that evil which was unimaginable to me, and that its potential, because of Christ, can actually live in me.
I've not taken any steps to live beside the one I've forgiven. I haven't had to like many of the Rwandan people. As I read some of their stories, I realize that those who have gone to that unimaginable reality with hearts seeking and offering forgiveness also have a character I can't imagine having. And if we didn't have their stories...if they forgot, or we forgot...
If that one Ultimate offering of forgiveness that covered us all were allowed to be forgotten because of all the pain it carried... would we really be able to fully rejoice in our restoration?
So if remembering can tie us not to our pain but instead to our redemption... and if our pain can become not our identity, but our marker for the point at which we were introduced to something even greater... maybe forgetting is a worthwhile goal to discard....