It was a moment over which I remain deeply ashamed. The office meeting was getting pretty intense. Arguments were getting rather heated. I found myself, in the argument, opposing the perspective of the president of the organization, who was also the chairman of the board. He made a suggestion of some sort, and I replied, while the half a dozen others in the room stared in shock, “Are you out of your mind?”
To his credit the chairman remained calm in reply, explaining to me that no, he was quite sane. I knew I had done badly as soon as the words left my mouth. When the meeting was over I went to him and apologized. He forgave me right away. I wasn’t surprised by that, since he had been forgiving me as long as I can remember. The chairman was my father.
Ten years later the two of us were having another conversation, this one perfectly peaceful. Wishing to illustrate my point I asked him, “Do you remember that time, at that meeting, when I said that really shameful thing, about you being out of your mind?” “No son,” my father replied, “I have no memory of that.” I didn’t push the question. I didn’t probe to find out whether he was speaking metaphorically or not. Either way I was astonished at his character.
Now the Bible regularly uses language about the depth of God’s forgiveness for our sins. He forgets them; He washes us thoroughly from them; He removes them as far from us as the east is from the west. Does this mean He has no knowledge of these sins? Of course not. God knows all things. He knows all things immediately. That is, God never has to compute an answer, nor recall one. All information is immediately before Him.
That we ask this question, however, gets at precisely why God uses this kind of language. We want to know if He really does remember because we are really ashamed and wish He didn’t. We want to be really, really sure we are really, really forgiven. We know that when some humans says after we confess our sins, “I’ve already forgotten it” that they have instead filed it away for later use. Not so with God. There is no later use. There is no secret, hidden grudge.
The glory of the gospel is not that God, just because He’s a nice guy, decides not to hold our sins against us. The glory of the gospel is that my sins are already dealt with, already punished. There is no grudge not because He has forgotten, but because He remembered our sins at Calvary. Our sins are not forgotten but forgiven, because Jesus received their due punishment. Our Father in heaven loves us as if we had never sinned at all. Our sins have no part in the equation. They simply don’t count because they were cancelled on the cross.
My father is a loving and gracious man, who can literally forget. My heavenly Father is a loving and gracious omniscient God who cannot forget. Both of them, praise God, can and do forgive.