I forget what people tell me (my wife, sadly, seems to be my Number One Forgetee.) I forget where I put things. I forget to write things down. I forget appointments and double-book. (In fact, this very night I’m supposed to be having supper at my Afghan daughter’s apartment and also participating in the draft, along with my sons and their friends, for our next season of NHL fantasy hockey.)
For me, it sometimes brings a certain satisfaction just to remember that I forgot!
But I’m human, and much of my earthly life is behind me. How can the Most High God, who is eternal and all-knowing, forget anything? Jeremiah, prophesying of a future time when the nation of Israel will actually know and love God, writes in JER 31.34:
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
When God forgives, God forgets. But how?
I’ve been told, by people who are supposed to know, that the human brain never really forgets. Data that are stored there are always there, but they are not always accessible. The photo above this article may help to illustrate my point.
I just took a picture of my Spanish vocabulary cards. I have stacks of these things, and I’ve just reactivated them because I have the opportunity to use my Spanish again and really need to brush up. At one time I knew every one of these words–I’ve reviewed them over and over, putting the ones I knew in a pile on the right and the ones I didn’t in a pile on the left. I’ve reshuffled the left-hand pile and gone through it again until every card was on the right. Then, I’ve shuffled the whole stack and reviewed it once more until I could do it without having to put any of the cards on the left. Doing this three times a day, one can learn 50-100 words a week with relative ease.
But here’s the rub. As I tell my ESL students, there is a difference between knowing a word and owning a word. To own a word, one has to use it–often–or pretty soon, one won’t even know it anymore.
That analogy helps me to understand how God forgets my sin when I ask Him to forgive me. It’s not as if He never knew I sinned–He’s God, after all–but it’s that He doesn’t use my sin against me. Ever.
Do we forgive like that? Ephesians 4.32 and Colossians 3.13 tell us we’re supposed to. When we forgive, we may never actually forget the act of sin itself–our brains may retain the data for the rest of our lives–but we can forget the pain and the anger and the disappointment if we simply refuse to use the sin against the sinner. Ever.
The sins of others that we forgive should be like the words of a language long forgotten, simply through disuse.