The Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke’s Gospel is such a compelling story. The principles and truths Jesus communicated in this parable are amazing. The conflict between the father and son is palpable. The son’s decisions bring adverse consequences that cut him off from his father and his home. The father agrees to let the son go. After a long separation, the son realizes the foolishness of his estrangement from his father and decides to go home. The question he cannot answer is will his father forgive him and accept him.
We see the power of forgiveness at work in the reunion of the father and the son. Forgiveness did its astonishing work—no more agonizing memories of regret and shame for the son. Luke beautifully describes the encounter between the two in these words: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). It that moment, in that embrace, the father forgave the son and resolved the question of acceptance. The father resolved the issue between him and his son through forgiveness.
The brain has a way of organizing itself and closing out memories that are resolved, but those that are not resolved will continue to haunt us. They repeatedly play as if they ask for resolution, but the never-ending cycle causes us unbearable pain.
You have seen waiters in restaurants who can take an order of large numbers of people without writing it down. Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik tested many of those waiters and found that as soon as the order was delivered to the kitchen, they forgot the order. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect. The brain dismisses it because the issue was resolved; the brain hangs on to things that are not resolved, but it lets go of things that are resolved. This is what happens when we experience the forgiveness of God through his grace. Its resolved! There is no need to replay it, no need to relive it because God has resolved it.
When an unresolved issue that has caused us pain lies buried deep in our memory, we do not think about it until something triggers it. Then as the memory resurfaces, but so does the pain and all the accompanying emotions. These unresolved issues cause us to act out our feelings of indifference, coldness, and hurt.
Is it possible to resolve long-standing issues deeply anchored in painful experiences and recorded in our brains? Yes, it is! Sometimes it’s helpful to talk out the problem and try to understand the context of the painful encounter. How did this happen? Who was involved? What do I now know that I did not know when this happened? Who is to blame for what happened? Finally, the resolution is obtained through God’s forgiveness. When we realize how big God’s forgiveness is toward us, it helps us forgive those who have hurt us—including ourselves. When it is resolved through forgiveness, it no longer occupies memory because we can let it go.