Does God Ever Forget?
Can an all-knowing, omniscient God ever truly forget? Is it not an essential element in being God that nothing ever slips his mind? Could God ever not remember?
In Isaiah 43:25 we hear God declare of himself, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isa. 43:25; emphasis mine). Does that mean God has no recollection of what we’ve done? How can God be God and forget anything?
We finite humans, on the other hand, are good at forgetting. We can’t remember where we left the car keys. An important appointment is overlooked. No one has to try to forget. Our minds are frail and fitful. It just happens.
But there are occasions when we remember all too well. It typically happens when someone has betrayed us or in some other painful way has sinned against us. We vow never to forget! We can’t shake free of the lingering thought of being hurt. And the memory of what they did (or perhaps what we did to them) feels indelibly imprinted on our souls. Sadly, we project onto God our determination to remember the sins committed against us. We mistakenly think that if we can’t forget what was done to us, surely God will never forget what we’ve done to him.
Walking through the Bible’s teaching, Sam Storms helps believers find freedom, joy, and peace in knowing what God has done (and will never do) with their sin through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus.
One of the many blessings of the New Covenant is God’s promise that he will “forgive” our “iniquity” and “will remember” our “sin no more” (Jer. 31:34b), a declaration that is twice cited in Hebrews (Heb. 8:12; Heb. 10:17). But is this literally true, or some form of spiritual hyperbole? I’m incredibly grateful that God repeatedly says that he will never forget us, his people, his promises, or his covenants (see Psa. 74:2; 105:8, 42; 106:45; 111:5). But what about our sins? Do they silently linger in the back of God’s mind, ready to be brought into conscious thought and used against us? No. This is the promise from him who does not lie. He will remember our sins no more!
A Conscious and Gracious Choice
Not long ago a friend reminded me of an incident in which he betrayed my confidence. I had shared something extremely personal, and he assured me that he would never disclose it to anyone. But he did. I assured him, in all sincerity, that I had completely forgotten the entire affair. It had never entered my conscious thought until he brought it up to me in conversation. But failure to remember was not a conscious decision on my part. It just happened.
That is not what God does when he “forgets” our sin. It is a conscious and altogether gracious choice on his part never to think about our moral failures, never to brood over them, and assuredly never to make use of them to threaten us, control our behavior, or justify our condemnation.
Look again at those final two words in Hebrews 8:12 and Hebrews 10:17: “no more”! They are critically important. God is saying, in the most literal way possible, “I will never again, by no means ever, remember their sins or lawless deeds.” I think what the omniscient, never-forgetful, always-mindful God is saying is that our sin will have no place in his conscious thought. He will not reflect upon it, think about it, contemplate it, ponder it, analyze it, or ever again bring it up to himself, to you, or to others. He will never appeal to our many failures to make use of them against us on judgment day. He will never focus attention on our sins in order to shame us. Our sins, quite literally, will never again play a role or exert any influence in our relationship with God.
We often live in paralyzing fear that God is constantly examining us and indicting us and declaring to us: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds; I’ll never forget,” when in fact that is precisely what he declares he will do “no more”! No more! By which he means, “Never again!
God neither learns nor forgets. As a good friend once said to me, “Sam, has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God?” Nothing catches him by surprise. He is never caught off guard, lacking some important bit of information about us or some incident in our lives. But that shouldn’t concern us, for in saying he won’t remember our sins he means: “I’ll never bring it up and use it in a way that will cause any spiritual harm. I’ll never take your sins into consideration when it comes to determining who is granted entrance into my eternal kingdom. I’ll never appeal to your sins as grounds for casting you aside.”
Our sins, quite literally, will never again play a role or exert any influence in our relationship with God.
So, let’s be clear about this: God cannot forget in the literal sense of the term and certainly not in the same way you and I do. God doesn’t suffer from mental lapses. His mind is infinitely perfect and powerful. Rather, God willingly chooses “not to remember.” Thus, it isn’t so much that the knowledge of our sins and lawless deeds has been erased from God’s mind. Rather, God promises to us that he will “not remember” our shortcomings and sin. He will not remind himself of our failures. And he will not remind us of them. They play no part in determining or shaping our acceptance with him. He will never throw them in our face or subtly drop hints about the ways we’ve failed. The guilt that our sin incurs will never serve as the grounds on which God might rescind the forgiveness that we received when we first trusted Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
Conviction of the Holy Spirit
But how do we reconcile this truth with the undeniable reality that the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin to our hearts? The answer is found in a distinction between our eternal union with Christ and our experiential communion with Christ. The former has to do with our salvation. As far as our status in the sight of God is concerned, no sin will ever threaten us or be brought up by God to justify his rejection of us. We have been declared righteous in the sight of God by faith in Jesus. And nothing can threaten to undo our acceptance with the Father (see Romans 8:31-34).
Our experiential communion with Christ, on the other hand, is something that can change from day to day. Our capacity to enjoy the reality of being forgiven and to live in the peace that surpasses all understanding fluctuates, dependent on our obedience and our willingness to repent. In other words, I am always and forever united to Christ by faith (eternal union), but I don’t always feel it or enjoy it or experience it from one day to the next (experiential communion). Willful disobedience and unconfessed sin can greatly affect my communion with Christ but never my union with him.
The Holy Spirit can pierce our hearts with the reality of our unrepentant sin, but not for the purpose of judging us or condemning us or casting us aside. He lovingly awakens us to the reality of our sin precisely so that we might turn from it and once again walk in the joy and comfort of being a born-again, justified-by-faith child of God.
Try to envision what your Christian life would be like if you woke up each day and fell asleep each night with the unassailable confidence that God will never, ever remember your sins and lawless deeds? I strongly suspect that your heart would be energized with boldness to witness for Christ, and your worship would be passionate and heartfelt, and your love for others would deepen and intensify, and your prayer life would be far more consistent than it is today.
To know without hesitation or qualification or the slightest doubt that when God looks at you and thinks about you and hears your prayers that he refuses to remember your sins or lawless deeds, not because there aren’t any, not because you’ve been especially good this week, but solely because Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice in your place once and for all time—to know this and to experience the joy and power and peace it brings is simply too marvelous for words.
Sam Storms is the author of A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin (And Three Things He’ll Never Do).
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