From the Daily Office Lectionary for Tuesday in the week of Proper 14, Year 1 (Pentecost 11, 2015)
Psalm 99:8 ~ “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
Each time I recite Psalm 99 from the Book of Common Prayer I find myself caught up short by this verse, by its ordering of forgiveness and punishment. One would, I think, expect something like, “You were a God who punished them, yet forgave them.” Perhaps it’s the choice of conjunction that is troublesome: “yet” seems to imply future action, punishment coming after forgiveness. An Orthodox Jewish translation of the Psalm offers a slightly different (although more ambiguous) understanding: “Thou answeredst them, Hashem Eloheinu; Thou wast El (G-d) that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their misdeeds.” “Though” (which is also used in the Authorized Version translation) could mean either ordering of forgiveness and vengeance.
In any event, the verse catches my attention and leads me to consider whether forgiveness negates the possibility of punishment or, more broadly speaking, of consequences. I know from my own experience as a child that it does not. My parents might have forgiven me some offense, but the result of my offense, forgiveness notwithstanding, might still be a restriction of privileges in the future. More than once I can remember my mother or father saying something like, “You remember what happened last time” even though they had forgiven my infraction “last time.”
So is such forgiveness really forgiveness? Whatever happened to “forgive and forget”?
What happened was that it never ever existed! No one (and our verse suggests even God) ever forgave and forgot, nor should anyone. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was intimately involved with the reconciliation process that helped bring a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa is quoted as saying, “Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering –remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.”
The psalm reminds us that even though God is a God who forgives, but that God is also a God who remembers, a God in whose kingdom there are consequences. Yes, forgiving but remembering, forgiving yet allowing there to be consequences is forgiveness. It’s the only kind there really is.