God Chooses to Forget
Posted on May 18, 2014
Please forgive my feigned irreverence, but how can the writer of 1 Kings say that David was wholly true to the Lord? How can the Holy Spirit (who was the primary author) say that David kept God’s statutes and commandments? David was a blatant adulterer. David conspired to murder one of the soldiers in his own army (the husband of the woman with whom he committed adultery). Reading the account of David’s life, we could never say that David was wholly true to the Lord or that he kept God’s statutes and commandments.
We know that God does not lie. God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). It’s Satan that is a liar, and the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). God is the truth. If there is truth anywhere, there is truth in the Triune God. When we hold onto God, we are holding onto the truth.
And his word, the Bible is truth (Jn. 17:17). God wrote the Bible. And since God cannot lie, the Bible cannot lie. However we explain these perplexing statements in first Kings 11, we cannot say that God is lying, and we cannot say that God doesn’t know what’s going on.
What is God trying to say in 1 Kings, then? Why does he make these statements that seem to contradict what we know about David’s life?
Resolving a Seeming Contradiction
I’d like to make a suggestion. I believe that God chooses to forget. The Bible teaches this. We read that as a result of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, God doesn’t remember our sins and lawless deeds anymore.
This doesn’t mean that he’s not aware of them. This doesn’t mean that he cannot know them (God’s forgetfulness is not ontological). God knows all things, and he certainly knows our sins. However, because he is God, because he is sovereign, he can choose to forget.
God’s “repressed memories”
In our earthly realm, we sometimes speak of “repressed memories.” There’s been a tragic, traumatic event in our or somebody else’s lives. Maybe it was war or capture in a battle. Maybe it was a death in the family. Maybe it was a painful illness. Maybe it was a dear friend turning on us. It was so painful to us that we choose to forget. It’s not that we don’t know about it. It’s that we don’t want to think about it, so we choose to forget it. We put it out of our mind.
Sometimes this isn’t a conscious choice. Some event is so traumatic that we unconsciously put it out of her mind. We literally can’t remember.
But sometimes we actually choose to forget. We make a conscious, determined choice to put something out of our mind, and when it enters our mind, we push it to the periphery. We choose to forget.
It appears that God chooses to forget in an absolute way that we can scarcely understand. Our sins are right before our face. David said, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). Even when we confess our sins, it’s very hard for us to forget them. They just keep coming back to mind.
Therefore, we seem to think, by analogy, that God can’t forget them either. After all, God is omniscient (all-knowing). We are not omniscient, yet we remember our sins. Obviously, God remembers our sins. How couldn’t he? He knows everything!
God Is Powerful Enough to Forget
But we seem to forget is God isn’t only all knowing. He’s also omnipotent (all-powerful). He remembers a lot better than we do, but he forgets a lot better than we do.
When we repent of our sins, when we confess our sins, we put away our sins — and God puts them out of mind. In Psalm 51, David prays that God will hide his face from David’s sin.
That’s what God does. When we confess our sin, he forgives our sin, and he chooses to forget. God isn’t a grudge-holder. God forgives, and he really does forget.
Now perhaps we can understand why God told Solomon that David followed him entirely, that David obeyed God’s statutes and commandments.
Got erased all of David’s sins, and all he had left to see was David’s faithfulness and obedience. God couldn’t see anything but David’s heart-felt worship and obedience.
Hebrews Chapter 11
How else can we explain Hebrews chapter 11? This chapter is filled with the names of Old Testament saints. God holds them up as examples to wavering saints in the New Testament. (By the way, this shows us that the quality of faith in the Old Testament was not one bit inferior to the quality of faith in our New Testament times. The writer of Hebrews is saying that we should imitate the faith of our Old Testament brothers and sisters.) But we find it hard to understand how some names came to be on that list.
Abraham was a great example of faith? But he lied about Sarah his wife to one of the pagan kings. He didn’t trust that God could protect her and him. Worse yet, he had intercourse with his wife’s servant in order to get the promised seed. This is how Ishmael came along (he’s likely the father of many modern Arabs). How could Abraham be a man of great faith? He didn’t trust God to give him and his wife the promised seed. He tried to produce the promised seed in a way that God did not design. It seems to me that that’s is an example of unbelief, not faith.
But when God recounted his deeds in Hebrews 11, he chose to forget.
What about you and me? What about all of the times we doubted God? What about the times we panicked, and didn’t pray, and worried, and made bad choices, like Abraham did?
Looking back over my own life, in the last 30 years I regret to say that almost every bad choice I’ve made was because I panicked and did not trust God. This is a lack of faith. It’s a sin. I’ve confessed that sin.
Maybe you are like me. You face big health problems. You have hard issues in your family. There’s too much month left at the end of the money. And you don’t calmly and simply lay all of this out before God. You act rashly. You act in unbelief. The good news is that if you confess your sin, God won’t remember it. God will choose to forget.
And what about Abraham’s wife Sarah? She also is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 as a great woman of faith. Really? A great woman of faith? One time God sent angels to Abraham (Gen. 18:15). They came to verify God’s covenant promise. God would give to Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age. Sarah heard the angels talking to Abraham in the tent, and the Bible says that she laughed to herself. She was so unbelieving that she laughed at God’s promises. Then God came to Abraham and confronted him about Sarah’s laughing. And then she had the audacity to lie to God (“God, I didn’t laugh”). And then God said: “No, but you did laugh.”
This is the same Sarah that Hebrews chapter 11 identifies as a great woman of faith. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (v. 11). Considered him faithful? She laughed at God’s promises, and then she lied about her laughing. But she repented, and God chose to forget. When he came to look on Sarah, all that he could see was her faith and truthfulness, not her unbelief and her deceit. All that God can seem to remember is that when the time came, she trusted God to do what he said he would do.
And what about us? Do we mock the promises of God in our heart? Like Sarah, do we laugh within ourselves? We never outwardly laugh at or mock God. But we read in the word that the Father glorifies Jesus by answering prayer (Jn. 14:13), and yet we often don’t believe this. Like Sarah, we laugh in our hearts. We somehow believe that God can’t (or won’t) heal illnesses; that he can’t (or won’t) save sinners; that he can’t (or won’t) bring wayward children back to the Faith; that he can’t (or won’t) supply our financial need; that he can’t (or won’t) send a great revival. This is an evil heart of unbelief (Heb. 3:12). Sometimes this evil heart is our heart.
But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins (1 Jn. 1:9). And he will choose to forget.
Hebrews 11 also mentions Samson as a great example of faith. Samson? The undisciplined judge? The self-centered judge? The judge who put his own appetites above everybody and everything else? The judge who lost his massive strength and lost his eyesight because of his sin? How could he be a great example of faith?
Because at the end of his life, he turned back to God. God used him to destroy more Philistines in his death than in his life. And God chose to forget his sin.
Some of us have acted like Samson. We’ve let lust overcome us. Perhaps with alcohol and drug or pornography addictions. Our undisciplined tongue has hurt people badly. We’ve played fast and loose with God’s law. Satan tries to tell us that we can’t make it back. We might as well continue in the Slough of Despond. That’s a satanic lie.
If we repent, and confess, and put away our sins, God chooses to forget.
Nobody reading about Samson in the Old Testament historical account would consider him a great man of faith. That’s because God interprets people’s lives differently than we do.
Sometimes we are much more lenient than God. Sometimes we’re much more severe than God.
God Keeps Forgetting
And God just keeps forgetting. Paul teaches that when we trust in Jesus, we get a new Lord (Rom. 6). Sin is no longer our lord. Jesus Christ is our Lord.
But this doesn’t mean that we reach sinless perfection. I was talking this past week with a dear friend. We were discussing what Hebrews 12:1-2 says. There we’re told to put aside the sin that easily weighs us down. Remember that this letter was written to Christians. In other words, there are true Christians who are weighed down by a sin that easily keeps them from running the race. It’s like rocks in the pocket of an Olympic sprinter. Maybe it’s anger, losing your temper. Maybe it’s lust, pornography. Maybe it’s worry, unbelief. Maybe it’s deception, lying: a life of little lies. Maybe it’s laziness; you just refuse to get up and work hard. Whatever it is, it’s that one sin that constantly weighs you down.
Whatever it is, it’s a weight that you can lay aside. I find it fascinating that this verse comes right after Hebrews 11. Did you notice that? All of these great witnesses from the Old Testament, these great people of faith, are looking down on us as we run our life’s race. We must run the race of life just as they did.
But we must never get the impression that we are weighed down by sin, although they were not weighed down by sin. What makes them so exemplary is not that they were never weighed down by sin. What makes them exemplary is that, like us, they were weighed down by sin, but they laid aside their weight of sin, just as we can.
God will forget our sin, just as he forgot their sin.
This does not mean that God will forgive the sin of those who refuse to repent (Jer. 14:10–12; Hos. 8:13, 9:9). Those who turn their back on God; those who turn the their back on the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ; those who long for their sin and long to get God out of their lives — yes, God will remember their sin. And he will judge their sin.
But this is not true of his true people. It isn’t true of those who live lives of repentant obedience.
He chooses to forget our sin.
I want to conclude with an action item. It is a vital action item. It is a transformational action item.
Our growth as a Christian should be marked by our increasing tendency to view things the way God views them. Please ponder that statement. We’re born as sinners. Sin affects our minds. We think as sinners. When God saves us, he starts changing our minds. It causes us to start thinking the way that he thinks.
We might even say that God has a worldview. The only totally correct worldview. We start reading the Bible and relying on the Holy Spirit so we’ll think more and more like God thinks. Of course, we need to act as God wants us to act, but we cannot do that until we think what God wants us to think.
And if God chooses to forget our sin, we must learn to forget our sin also.
When we confess and forsake our sin, God chooses to forget it. We must choose to forget it too.
When you and I keep remembering our sin, we are remembering what God has forgotten. If we keep remembering, we are filled with guilt and despair. We’re overcome with anxiety. We have no hope for the future. That’s what sin does. It destroys things. It destroys our entire worldview.
But as it relates to confessed sin, God is the master of the “forgetfulness worldview.” You can’t imagine the life of freedom and hope you’ll enjoy if you start looking at confessed sin the way that God does.
God chooses to forget our sin. So should we.