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GOD REMEMBERS – AND FORGETS
A Talk at the Monday Club by Joss Apperley
Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK) unless noted otherwise
No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Hebrews 8: 11, 12
NOW WHAT DAY IS IT TODAY? With some embarrassment I confess to occasional lapses of memory – but as this is the Monday Club, today I have no excuse. Looking around I see that most of us are in the prime of life, or, euphemistically, in the ripe maturity and wisdom of advancing years. Isn’t that right? Of course it is! Past the so-called mid-life crisis and generally settled and contented in our individual modus operandi, we can smile and shake our heads at the foolishness of youth and the rash behaviour of some middle-aged kids.
But don’t let’s be too smug. We seniors have our failings, and an eight-year old can outsmart us any day on a computer, a mobile phone, or any of the amazing electronic gadgets that make information on any topic instantly available. The young even have a grasp of how it all works, and are nonplussed at the ignorance of grandpa. In our own youth we painstakingly – and often unwillingly – packed information into our brains by hours of reading and paying attention to teachers or lecturers, with varied levels of success.
It’s a different world today, but the information explosion of recent times does not necessarily indicate an increase in human intelligence. Had the information been made available many generations ago, who can doubt that it would have been understood and exploited in just the same way as today? The phenomenon was forecast in the 6th century BC by the prophet Daniel, who was instructed to seal the book even to the ‘time of the end’, when many would run here and there, and knowledge would be increased (Daniel 12: 4). Are we running here and there? Yes! And it seems that the whole world of mankind is constantly on the move.
Having such vast resources of information available, do you sometimes ask yourself: ‘Do I really want to know this or that?’ And how do we retain what is useful and discard the rest? Consigning unwanted stuff to the cranial rubbish bin may be a somewhat involuntary reaction, though we do sometimes make a conscious choice to discard what’s of no use or interest. Can we blot out distressing memories? In extreme cases that does seem to happen, either deliberately or subconsciously, and that such selective amnesia is possible may be a built-in safety mechanism provided by a benign Creator.
On the other hand, learning from our own mistakes – or sins – requires that we do not entirely forget them. Does your heart go out to the Apostle Peter, who wept bitterly when he realised he had disowned his Lord? (Matthew 26: 75.) What greater lesson could teach him, and us, the frailty of fallen human nature? Peter would never forget, and his conduct thereafter would be tempered by the memory of his impulsive defection. And what seems doubly hard for him to bear is that all the world – even to this day, knows of his sin. Only the events subsequent to his betrayal made Peter’s life bearable – even exemplary, and his future as a leading Apostle is undoubted.
Now I’ve as good a forgettery as any chap, and my mental trash bin is topped up regularly, sometimes with information I later wish I’d assimilated and stored safely in that filing cabinet we have between our ears. No doubt we all have stuff we’d rather forget – like Peter perhaps. Recollections of past wrongdoing, shame at less than Christian conduct, failure to live worthy of the amazing love of God and Christ – such memories arise unbidden to chastise us, stored in some cerebral recycle bin until we need to be reminded, instructed and admonished.
Does God Forget?
Oh yes! He tells us that He does. But how can the Almighty forget anything? Are we to understand that He is sometimes a little absent minded, as we are? By no means! Some Biblical statements are difficult to grasp, and when God says that He will forget something, He is not admitting to any weakness of mental capacity, but conveying to the reader His deliberate choice on the matter under discussion. We do this ourselves of course – disregarding another’s faults, debts or offences with a forgiving ‘oh forget it!’
Blotting out the record of our offences, giving us a clean slate, so to speak, is the act of a merciful God who knows our weaknesses and has provided a Saviour. When God forgets our sins, the essential, motivating force behind the action is forgiveness. As the Scriptures assure us (Isaiah 43: 25):
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
So can we count on it that our lapses, small and great, are to be overlooked in advance by an indulgent Heavenly Father? Perish the thought! Our commitment to Christ is not an easy ride on the ‘gravy train’ to a heavenly reward. Rather, it’s a lifelong commitment to walk a difficult path, sometimes losing our way, having to retrace our steps, confessing our wrongdoing, constantly asking the Lord to wipe our slate clean again.
Just as forgetting often focuses on action, and not merely on mental recall, so remembering has the dual significance. King David, referred to by the Apostle Paul as a man after God’s own heart, often had occasion to appeal to the Lord to remember him (Acts 13: 22; Psalm 13: 1, 2):
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
David’s turbulent personal life and his painful awareness of his sins sent him often to the Lord in agonies of repentance, and the centuries-long passing of time does not dim our compassion when reading his heart-rending plea for forgiveness (Psalm 51: 9-11):
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
The thief crucified alongside Jesus appealed to be remembered in the Lord’s Kingdom – not in a passing recollection, but for some hoped-for relief. The childless Hannah asked the Lord to remember, and not forget her, and in due time she gave birth to Samuel, the son she then pledged to the Lord’s service. God remembered Hannah in the active, practical sense of the word (1 Samuel 1: 10, 11, 19, 20). Have you ever been a beneficiary in somebody’s will? Then you were remembered in the practical sense!
Our Own Remembering and Forgetting
It is an act of will, a positive intention to do the best we can. While we may be rather helpless in our advancing years to stem the tendency to forget names of people, places, what day it is, and all manner of annoying trivia, years of practice should have trained us to remember in the loftier sense of observing the needs of others and responding in a practical sense. Sometimes I chuckle at the moans of ‘grumpy old men’ (and women), and agree with them, but there’s a wealth of goodwill and kindness that seldom hits the headlines – the charity workers, the hospital volunteers, the good Samaritans – all remembering the needs of others by their positive actions.
And what about positive forgetting? Forgiving and forgetting the real or imagined offences of others is a truly liberating experience. Human conflict began in Eden and scars us all, so whatever we can do to spread peace and harmony will ease the pain. Let Jesus’ reply to Peter’s question set the standard (Matthew 18: 21, 22):
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-times-seven .’
Now what time was I supposed to finish this dissertation? Ah! You’ve all had enough! Thanks for putting up with me.
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