I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
In Memoriam A.H.H. Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
The first few instances where the notion of remembrance is found in Scripture it is used of God remembering (Gen 8:1; 9:15-16; 19:29; 30:22). On this Memorial Day I praise God that he remembers us and is faithful to his promises.
Other important passages of God remembering are Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Likewise Jeremiah 31:34 exclaims “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
But wait a minute! Precisely how would it work that God, who is omniscient, literally forgets something (“remembers no more”) and yet remains omniscient? Perhaps the notion that God forgets our sins is not a cognitive act at all but a behavioral one. For instance, consider 1 Samuel 1:19-20 where God “remembered” Hannah and opened her womb so she could conceive. It’s not as though the Lord said, “Oops! Hannah, I’m so sorry I forgot about you. I’ve been so busy with other things, it just slipped my mind.” Rather, based upon her prayer to bear children, God DID something on Hannah’s behalf.
Or, consider how we use the word “remember” when I ask you to “remember someone in prayer.” It’s not as though I’m asking you to literally recall them to mind because you have forgotten them. I am, however, asking you to DO something on their behalf; in this instance pray for them. Likewise, God does not ever forget our sins, but graciously chooses not to hold them against us (see also Psalm 25:6, 7).
There may be therapeutic value in believing that God “forgives and forgets,” but it’s not theologically accurate or biblically responsible. What should make me feel good is that God can remember my every sin for eternity and still choose to grant forgiveness to me! This is the God of Scripture and this is the God we love and worship. Only a God who is eternally gracious yet eternally mindful of my sin can eternally forgive but not forget.