A quick search of the word “remember” shows that many times Moses called the people of Israel to remember what God has done for them. Our God is a God who has acted in history and we should call these acts to mind and be encouraged by them.
But there are times when a good memory is not helpful. Paul tells us:
“. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14 NASB)
There are things we may choose to forget.
In the context of these verses, Paul has just outlined all the things that might have given him status if one could earn his salvation. Paul was like that annoying kid that always had his homework done and always had the right answer. If anyone could earn good standing with God, it would have been Paul.
But after coming to know Jesus as the Christ, Paul discovered that all that he thought were good works were nothing but rubbish that, if anything, made it harder to find peace with God. It is those things which Paul is choosing to forget.
From this I conclude that Paul encourages us to forget all the things that kept us from coming into a deeper relationship with God.
We all bear scars that resulted from things that we have done or have been done to us. We have junk in our lives that make us feel unworthy of God’s love. We bear the marks of growing up in a sinful world.
I’m not saying that the pain of past events doesn’t linger. And I am certainly not trying to minimize the difficulty encountered by those who have experienced abuse or neglect. I am not a counselor, but I can see value in working to identify the effects that painful situations have made upon us and seeking healthy ways of responding to that pain.
It is obvious from reading Philippians 3 that Paul did not have those things wiped from his memory since he just gave us such a detailed list of his religious accomplishments. So forgetting does not mean that past events never come to mind.
In what sense, then, should we forget?
Perhaps forgetting is choosing to no longer let those things determine our path forward. We may choose to not let those things define us and allow God to give us a fresh start.
We don’t need to be imprisoned by our past.
We have the opportunity to press on toward the goal.
Jesus made that possible.