In politics, it's easier to forgive than it is to forget. When a talk-show host tags a female student with an unflattering name or a candidate suffers a memory lapse during a debate, he may be forgiven in private. But political missteps will never, ever be forgotten. They're far too useful.
That's often true in personal relationships, too. Most people recognize that forgiveness is healthier than marinating in the saltwater of bitterness and will make an effort to let go of their vindictive urges. The deeper the offense, the more difficult this is, but reasonable people can forgive. Forgetfulness, however, is another matter.
Christians have a deeper well from which to draw forgiveness, because we've been dug out, so to speak: Our own sins are continually before us and we understand, more and more as time goes on, how much we've been forgiven. Receiving grace grants the power of extending grace. But forgetting? Well ...
In my worst moments, I actually enjoy remembering. In a twisted way, being wronged validates me. That time I was cheated by a co-worker or bad-mouthed by my sister-in-law or lied to by my husband: All those accumulated slights, great and small, make a platform from which to exercise the Christian virtue of forgiveness. In the darkness those memories creep out like lizards and surround me, their tiny throats pulsing, their beady eyes unblinking, their subterranean resentment bobbing up and down. So admirable you are (they tell me), not holding that against her, forgiving him as you've been forgiven. In spite of what they did, and may do again. Oh, we won't dwell on it, but we remember.
In better moments I recall my own sins, and wish I couldn't. That's why God's way of dealing with offenses is so hard to grasp.
As far as east from west, as high as heaven from earth. We're told that God will hold an unbeliever accountable for a careless word, but will forget the heinous crimes of those who come to Him in faith. This is difficult to comprehend because we can't do it. Our memory is vast and stubborn and wild and precious-it tells us who we are, it reveals what we cherish and what we abhor, and it resists our control. Old hurts may heal, but are they really forgotten?
God says He forgets: "I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins" (Isaiah 43:25). If He says it, it must be true. He's not like us. But I used to wonder how this could be. Can one who plumbs the depths of my heart, even deeper than I can go-can Omniscience Himself totally forget? How could God dismiss from His limitless mind all my traitorous thoughts and deeds?
But that's the wrong question. For God, it's not about forgetting; it's about remembering.
Here's what God remembers: darkness at noon; innocence declared guilty; the earth reeling in horror. Red, red blood of infinite value pouring unchecked from a sacred head, hands, feet. The Father, not being flesh, could not feel it in the same way as the Son, but surely He felt it. Did the abandonment hurt as much as being abandoned? Did the forsaking rip His heart, like being forsaken? Is there a scar on God's perfection that aches even now?
"You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). There's an old gospel song that speaks of the "sea of God's forgetfulness"-it's an ocean of blood, lapping up to the throne of judgment. That is the end of forgiven sins; they are cast into that bottomless sea where they sink completely out of mind. He remembers the cost, not the debt. It is seared into His very nature, a faultline running from the throne room of heaven through every redeemed soul. It is always before Him, the sacrifice of the beloved Son.
Blessed forgetfulness ... someday, it will be ours.