Does God Really Forget Our Sins?

A Surprising Testament to the Power and Breadth of God's Forgiveness

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"Forget about it." In my experience, people use that phrase in only two specific situations. The first is when they're making a poor attempt at a New York or New Jersey accent -- usually in connection with The Godfather or the mafia or something like that, as in "Fuhgettaboudit."

The other is when we're extending forgiveness to another person for relatively minor offenses. For example, if someone says: "I'm sorry I ate the last donut, Sam.

I didn't realize you never got one." I might answer with something like this: "It's not a big deal. Forget about it."

I'd like to focus on that second idea for this article. That's because the Bible makes a surprising statement about the way God forgives our sins -- both our minor sins and our major mistakes.

A Surprising Promise

To get started, look at these surprising words from the Book of Hebrews:

For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.
Hebrews 8:12

I read that verse recently while editing a Bible study, and my immediate thought was, Is that true? I understand that God takes away all of our guilt when He forgives our sins, and I understand that Jesus Christ has already taken the punishment for our sins through His death on the cross. But does God really forget that we sinned in the first place? Is that even possible?

As I've talked with some trust friends about this issue -- including my pastor -- I've come to believe that the answer is yes.

God indeed forgets our sins and remembers them no more, just as the Bible says.

Two key verses helped me gain a greater appreciation of this issue and its resolution: Psalm 103:11-12 and Isaiah 43:22-25.

Psalm 103

Let's begin with these wonderful word pictures from King David, the psalmist:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:11-12

I certainly appreciate that God's love is compared to the distance between the heavens and the earth, but it's that second idea that speaks into whether God truly forgets our sins. According to David, God has separated our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west."

First, we do need to understand that David is using poetic language in his psalm. These aren't measurements that can be quantified with actual numbers.

But what I like about David's choice of words is that he paints a picture of infinite distance. No matter how far you travel to the east, you can always go another step. The same is true of the west. Therefore, the distance between east and west can best be expressed as an infinite distance. It's immeasurable.

And that's how far God has removed our sins from us. We are completely separated from our transgressions.

Isaiah 43

So, God separates us from our sins, but what about the forgetting part? Does He really purge His memory when it comes to our transgressions?

Look at what God Himself told us through the prophet Isaiah:

22"Yet you have not called on me, Jacob,
you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.
23You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
nor wearied you with demands for incense.
24You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
and wearied me with your offenses.

 

25"I, even I, am he who blots out
your transgressions, for my own sake,
and remembers your sins no more.
Isaiah 43:22-25

The beginning of this passage refers to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. The Israelites among Isaiah's audience had apparently stopped making their required sacrifices (or made them in a way that demonstrated hypocrisy), which was a sign of rebellion against God. Instead, the Israelites spent their time doing what was right in their own eyes and piling up more and more sins against God.

I really enjoy clever wording of these verses. God says the Israelites haven't "wearied" themselves in an effort to serve or obey Him -- meaning, they haven't made much of an effort to serve their Creator and God. Instead, they spent so much time sinning and rebelling that God Himself became "wearied" with their offenses.

Verse 25 is the kicker. God reminds the Israelites of His grace by stating that He is the One who forgives their sins and blots out their transgressions.

But notice the added phrase: "for my own sake." God specifically claimed to remember their sins no more, but it wasn't for the Israelites' benefit -- it was for God's benefit!

God was essentially saying: "I'm tired of carrying around all your sin and all the different ways you've rebelled against me. I will completely forget your transgressions, but not to make you feel better. No, I'll forget your sins so they no longer serve as a burden on My shoulders."

Moving Forward

I understand that some people might struggle theologically with the idea that God could forget something. He is omniscient, after all, which means He knows everything. And how could He know everything if He willingly purges information from His data banks -- if He forgets our sin?

I think that's a valid question, and I want to mention that many Bible scholars believe that God choosing not to "remember" our sins means He chooses not to act on them through judgment or punishment. That is a valid point of view.

But sometimes I wonder if we make things more complicated than they need to be. In addition to being all-knowing, God is omnipotent -- He is all-powerful. He can do anything. And if that's the case, who am I to say that an all-powerful Being can't forget something He desires to forget?

Personally, I prefer to hang my hat on the many times throughout Scripture that God specifically claims not just to forgive our sins, but to forget our sins and remember them no more. I choose to take His Word for it, and I find His promise comforting.

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O'Neal, Sam. "Does God Really Forget Our Sins?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/does-god-really-forget-our-sins-363180. O'Neal, Sam. (2017, February 4). Does God Really Forget Our Sins? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/does-god-really-forget-our-sins-363180 O'Neal, Sam. "Does God Really Forget Our Sins?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/does-god-really-forget-our-sins-363180 (accessed November 17, 2017).