Cousins
Pause for thought

Linguistic Cousins

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“ *O my many sins the Lord has cast behind his back, Remembered now no more, Remembered now no more. O my many sins the Lord has cast behind his back, Remembered now no more.

As the East is from the West so are they far from me, They are far from me, They are far from me. As the East is from the West so are they far from me, Remembered now no more.*” (Sunday school chorus from the 1950’s — best accompanied with actions!)

Language is a wonderful gift. Even the smallest of humans can understand and communicate once they have been exposed to native speakers for a few months. Language can elicit tears of grief and guffaws of laughter. We use it for signaling — if I say “help!”, or “go!”, or “fire!”, or “stop!” — everyone within earshot will react in a predictable way. I am using it right now to take thoughts that are in my mind and place them in yours. It’s a prolific means of communication.

It’s also one of the (many) ways God chooses to communicate his will to us. But we need to notice that God doesn’t use slang or sloppy language to convey his meaning.  His written word is very precise. 

However, we all know that language changes over time. 

Many of my readers will probably remember when a window was just a square hole in a room, an application was written on paper to get a job, a keyboard was only found on a piano or organ, a mouse was just a pesky rodent and a hard drive was an uncomfortable road trip! Now all those words have taken on new meanings and concepts! So it is important for us always to find out the meanings of the words in the context in which they were communicated.

There a a family of verbs in English that begin with the prefix “for-“ (sometimes “fore-“), which all carry the sense of doing something in advance. So to “foreknow” is to know something before it is generally known, similarly with “forecast” and “foretell”. Which brings me to the linguistic cousins of my title: “forgive” and “forget”.

Jesus made a big deal about “forgive”.

“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,  on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:9-15 NIV

By my count (in English as well as the Greek original) that’s six references in the Lord’s prayer, he must have thought it important!

The verb “to give” means to transfer something from one to another. If you believe my explanations about the prefix “for-“ the verb “forgive” must mean making that transfer ahead of time. So to forgive in a christian mindset means to replace something rightfully owed — debt, hurt, insult, etc. — with love, but in advance of the reckoning! 

Similarly, to “get” means to receive from another, so to “forget” means to reckon that whatever was rightfully and legally owed has already been received!

I should also point out that “forget” is not the same as amnesia. Amnesia is an inability to recall events and experiences, “forget” is to choose not to enforce a legal obligation as if it had not occurred at all! 

I know many christians struggle with the concept of forgiving and forgetting because they still vividly remember the thing they are trying to forget! However, there need not be any struggle once we understand that it is perfectly possible to “forget” in the biblical sense whilst still bringing the incident or circumstance we are forgetting to mind! We forget in the sense that we don’t keep score!

As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

“ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  1 Corinthians 13:4-5 NIV

So “forgive and forget” are two linguistic cousins in the language of God’s communication with us, right up there with “grace and mercy”. 

“Grace” is when God gives us what we don’t deserve, “mercy” is when God withholds consequences we do deserve!

Let’s forgive and forget like God does, and Jesus demonstrated!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

Saturday July 23rd, 2022
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