A Forgetful God

“I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.” Hebrews 10:17

Certain statements in the Bible are so arresting, so startling, that every time you read them you have to stop and let them sink in. Did God really mean that? Hebrews 10:17 is one of those verses.

It’s actually a quote from Jeremiah, a part of the wondrous “New Covenant” from the Lord (Jer. 31:31-34). The day would come, said Jeremiah (speaking for the Lord), when God would create a new covenant, completely unlike the old one.

The writer of Hebrews (no it was not Paul, but that’s about all we can say with certainty) realized that the new covenant had become a reality in Jesus Christ. The old one was based on law. The new one on grace. The old covenant was sprinkled with the blood of animals. The new one secured by the blood of the Son of God. The old one was hierarchical. In the new one, no person is better than anyone else.

In Christ there is a new day and a new creation. No more sacrifices. No more High Priests. No temple. Not even anymore law.

What about the sins that we so regularly commit? Here is the incomprehensible part: God forgets them. No, of course, God can never really forget anything, but He can love you as if you are perfect now, and one day through His grace make you perfect indeed. He knows all you have done, but He also knows beyond doubt where He is taking you. He forgets the sin.

The only person who remembers sin is a sinner. Right now someone may be remembering your sin for you and reminding you of it. But trust me, they are throwing stones at you simply as a way of forgetting their own sin. And most people have moved on from whatever you did. They don’t remember nearly as much as you do.

And there’s the problem. Why do you remember your sins when God doesn’t? No one really understands God’s grace. It is puzzling, even outrageous, that God can forgive so completely that a sinner becomes a saint.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce is a scene in which an unrepentant man, a “ghost” in the afterlife, meets one of his formers cohorts, a murderer. The murderer has accepted God’s grace, and been transformed eternally. He is a resident of heaven, a “spirit.” The ghost is shadowy and insubstantial. The spirit is real. This is the core of Lewis’ theology of heaven and hell.

The ghost rants at the spirit, reminding him that he murdered a former associate (who also is now in heaven). “He is here,” said the spirit. “You will meet him soon if you stay.” To which the ghost replies, “But you murdered him.” “Of course I did. It is all right now.”

The scene is worth reading in full (pages 25 ff. in the most common edition). God’s grace is so wondrous that it can make a murderer a new man. Even for the worst of us, there is a time when “it is all right now.” It begins the moment we plead for God’s mercy. He loves the invitation.

There is an old story, perhaps hackneyed, but it makes the point. A man had a guilt-ridden dream every night of standing before a silent God. He dared not speak, and cowered in fearfulness, sure that God was silently condemning him for his sins. After a week of such anxious nightmares he sought the counsel of a wise minister (likely Baptist) who suggested he simply ask God in the dream about sins he had committed. So that night he did, and was stunned to hear God say, “I don’t recall.”

You can do a good job of condemning yourself and living in the shadows of guilt. It’s time to quit it. God forgets. So should you.


Dr. Terry Ellis
April 26, 2015