A ruling from the European Union Court of Justice has declared that people have the “right to be forgotten”. The landmark case states that Google must remove links to information about people where personal data appears “to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purpose for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed”.
Rather than people being forgotten it’s their actions that the EU court has declared forgettable. Sex offenders, ex-politicians and others are among those reportedly applying under this ruling to see links to information about their previous behaviour removed from Google. The debate between those fighting for free expression and those wanting to protect privacy rights will long rage on.
For me, there is a question of whether actions can be forgotten. As I read the information about this ruling I was reminded of Psalm 51 where David asks for God’s forgiveness. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sin and blot out all my iniquity.”
These verses, along with other passages in scripture, suggest that God does indeed wipe out our sin. As Christians we believe that it is through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that we can be forgiven; that in Christ our sin is removed “as far from us as the east is from the west”.
Though we have access to the gift of redemption, God does not remove the earthly consequences of our sin. Many Christians have been taught to forgive in the same way God does; to no longer remember the offences committed against them. Christian women who have suffered abuse from a partner are often counselled by church leaders or fellow Christians to forget the offences, to uphold their marriage vows regardless of how deeply they have been hurt. So often sermons on forgiveness are coupled with forgetting. Just as Google will now be required to delete links, so we are taught that we should delete the hurt people cause us from our minds, bodies and souls.
Yet, this teaching only “works” when there are no physical consequences to someone’s sin against us. If a husband blinds their wife, if a parent permanently injures a child through abusing them, if someone cuts off my legs, all of these are impossible to forget. For the woman who is now blind, every aspect of her life is impacted by her husband’s choice. The child who has permanent injuries sees them every time he looks in the mirror, may need specialist medical care and may be unable to do certain jobs or activities. If someone cut off my legs, no amount of trying to forget would work.
In trying to forget the sins perpetrated against us, our minds could perform mental gymnastics. But the reality is very different.
Whether physical, emotional or psychological, the ways people hurt us scar our soul. Scripture does not advocate removing the earthly consequences for someone’s choices to hurt us. In fact Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 18:15-17 that accountability is important. We are not called to ‘delete’ people’s offences, or the consequences of them, we are called to forgive them. To have an attitude of heart that wishes them well while taking action to keep ourselves, and others, safe and healthy.
The question of whether people have a “right to be forgotten” will long continue as more and more people seek to have their actions and opinions about them deleted from public sight. As Christians, we can celebrate that the truth of how God does indeed forget our sins, while holding onto the truth that the forgiveness we enact towards others does not delete the consequences of their sin, but seeks to hold to account while having a right attitude of heart.