How Can God Forget Them?
Nothing is impossible for God right? Then how is it possible for God to forget our sins after He’s forgiven them? It’s sounds like a complete contradiction?
Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
This is a remarkable statement by God to His people Israel after He goes into detail in all the preceding verses about how they’ve been sent into exile because of their sin and how they rebelled against Him and forgot Him, yet God promises to bring them back from the north, south, east and west – even though they were only going into the Babylonian captivity at that time (God knew there would be another dispersion in their future into the entire world) – and that when He would bring them back, wipe out their transgressions and not remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:10-12, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and I will write them on their hearts and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone His fellow citizen and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more.”
This is God’s promise to His people that when He establishes His New Covenant with them, He will be merciful toward them and forgive their sin and indeed, He won’t remember their sin anymore!
Hebrews 10:14-17, ‘For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,” says the Lord: “I will put My laws upon their heart and on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”‘
Again, God promised to establish a New Covenant with His people and His promise included all their sins being forgotten.
Psalm 103:10-13, ‘He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.’
How can God forget something when He knows everything? Sometimes there are Bible passages that make you scratch your head trying to understand them. Again, how can God, in His infinite intelligence and knowledge, forget anything, let alone the entire accumulation of the sins of all His children?
The other side of this subject is that the Lord said that we are to forgive the sins of others in the same way He’s forgiven us our sins.
Does God really expect us to forgive and to forget the sins of others?
I heard a story about a young woman who had been raped by a babysitter when she was only 10 years old and over many years she tried very hard to forgive her attacker however she was most distressed by the fact that she couldn’t forget the horror of what happened to her. What concerned her most was that if she couldn’t forget, perhaps she hadn’t really forgiven and therefore, God wouldn’t forgive her either. How could anyone possibly forget such a crime?
Did you know that the English language consists of about 100,000 words? By comparison the Hebrew language has about 4,000 words.
In English, when we use the word ‘remember’ it’s entirely focused on the idea of memory recollection and bringing those recollections into our thoughts. To ‘forget’ in English simply means we’ve failed to bring a certain memory to mind. Both these English words – ‘remember’ and ‘forget’ describe a mental activity whether there is material or information to the specific memory present or not.
By contrast, the Hebrew word for ‘remember’ is the verb ‘zakhar’ and its meaning is much wider; it not only means the mental activity of remembering something, but it also means the actions that are taken because of remembering something. It also can imply a person doing a favour for someone, helping them or being faithful to a promise or covenant.
When Noah built the ark and God sent the rain and the flood covered the whole earth, Noah, his family and the animals survived on board but after a period of time God remembered Noah and all the animals on the ark with him, and as a result, God caused a wind to pass over the earth and the water subsided and they were all able to leave the ark. (Gen 8:1)
God didn’t just suddenly wake up one morning, slap His forehead and remember that Noah and all the animals were still floating aimlessly on the waters and therefore quickly sent a great wind to help dry up the water! Not at all, what the passage is actually telling us is that God acted upon His promise that He’d already given to Noah; it was an action according to the promise God had made.
Another example is when God remembered Rachel whose womb God had closed because Jacob had treated Leah so unlovingly; He remembered Rachel, He listened to her and opened her womb. (Gen 30:22)
This act of remembrance was more than a mere mental activity as though one day God suddenly remembered that Rachel was unable to fall pregnant, rather God actually responded to Rachel’s prayer and her desire to have a child and He did something about it; He intervened and opened her womb. It was more than mere mental exercise.
With regard to the word ‘forget’, the Hebrew words are ‘shakach’ and ‘nashah’ and are also very broad in their meaning. Quite often they mean to ignore or neglect, sometimes to forsake or disregard.
An example of this can be found in Deuteronomy 4:23 when God warned His people not to ‘forget’ the covenant they’d made with the Lord by making idols for themselves which would result in God’s judgment.
God wasn’t saying that they might literally forget that they’d made a covenant with God and have it completely erased from their memory banks; no, God was warning them not to intentionally ignore their covenant with Him.
God also threatened His people that if they don’t stop their sin, He might even forget them and cast them away from Him. (Jer 23:39) But how is that possible, God knows everything and if He created an entire people who are living on His earth, how can He not know who they are?
The emphasis in this passage just like the previous one is on an action, not a mental activity. God was warning His people that His action would be to turn from them, not wipe them from His memory. We need to re-understand or re-define the words ‘remember’ and ‘forget’ with a Hebrew understanding rather than an English understanding – they’re action words and they make understanding God’s intention much easier.
David said in Psalm 13:1, ‘How long, O Lord will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?’ When you understand that David didn’t believe that God had wiped him from His memory, rather David was asking God how long it would be before He took action on his behalf.
Our original question is now much easier to understand…how can God forget our sins when He knows everything? God doesn’t forget anything!
God was telling His people that when He restores them to Himself, He will forgive them and not take action against them for all the wickedness that they’ve done. He’s not saying He’ll wipe all remembrance of them or their sins from His memory so that He has no idea of what they did, rather He promised to not give them what they actually deserved for all that they’ve done.
If this is God’s promise then there are serious implications? For example, if God simply ignores a person’s sins (or an entire nations) then He’s guilty of 2 things: 1) He’s unjust in turning a blind eye to sin and 2) He’s guilty of favouritism in letting some people off scott free while judging others for the same thing. How can that be? Well, it’s not like that at all; God is never unjust and God gives grace and opportunity to all men no matter who they are, where they live or what their lineage.
When God made His promises about not remembering the sins of His people, it was in conjunction with what He Himself called the New Covenant that would be embedded in their heart not merely inscribed on parchment. The New Covenant was written and purchased by the blood of Yeshua the Messiah and the day is yet to come when Israel – a national people – will indeed come to faith in Yeshua their Messiah and the New Covenant will be written in their hearts and God will not take action against them for all their sins.
For the past 2,000 years approximately, the Gentile world has had the light of God’s Word and the understanding of Yeshua the Messiah and an incredible opportunity to be grafted into the New Covenant whereas the Jewish people have been living under judicial blindness all this time. The wonderful news of course is that more and more are coming to faith today and it would seem that the judicial blindness is lifting slowly but surely.
How then should we as believer’s live according to the Hebrew understanding of remembering and forgetting?
When we’ve committed sins or have had sins committed against us, we can’t wipe them from our memory banks, that’s simply beyond our ability. Rather, God wants us to imitate Him so that we forgive others for what they’ve done and then not take action against them for what they did, in the same way that God forgives us and doesn’t take action against us for all that we’ve done.
Adapted from the writing of Lois Tverberg