A Brief Note on Forgiveness and Forgetfulness

Does God forget my sins when he forgives my sins? Aren’t we supposed to “forgive and forget?” After all, the Bible clearly states “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). And, Jeremiah exclaims “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

But wait a minute! I thought God was omniscient! How can a being who knows all things forget anything? Precisely how would it work that an omniscient being literally forgets something 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).

It may be psychologically attractive to believe that God “forgives and forgets,” but it’s not theologically accurate or biblically responsible. What should make me feel good is that God can know 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.

Sola gratia, Soli Deo gloria!

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2 Comments

  1. Paul,

    Great observation and I like your distinction. Note Numbers 14:17-25 where Moses asks God to forgive the people and God says, “I have forgiven them as you asked. Nevertheless . . .” Clearly, God has forgiven the people but will still carry out a consequence. Now if God has forgotten the forgiven sin then does he know why he’s punishing them? The whole thing gets really confusing. I’ve heard in countless sermons from the pulpit, “If you ask God about the sin you confessed yesterday He will just say, ‘I don’t remember.'” It sounds nice but is Biblically and theologically untenable.

  2. Hey Louis! What a delight and privilege to have you comment here on my blog!!

    Granting forgiveness yet imposing consequences for sin is quite the anomolous equation, eh? Nevertheless, this is the reality of Numbers 14. Thanks for reminding me of that important passage. And, as you have done so often in the past, your keen insight into the nonsensical notion that forgotten sin is somehow still punishable makes for a very confused God indeed! It’s like a father telling a wayward child he forgives and forgets the child’s disobedient act but is going to take away TV privileges. “But Dad,” says the child, “why can’t I watch TV?” and the father responds, “Uh, I forgot…but you just can’t!” The poor child would be in therapy for years!

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