A friend once confessed he had a problem with the idea of God forgetting his sins, because if God were capable of forgetting them, what else might he forget? But the Bible doesn’t say God forgets our sins. Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17 both say, “… their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
There’s a whole lot of difference between forgetting (something at which I excel, especially as I get older) and choosing not to remember.
I take these verses at face value, based on the promise of First John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It’s all about grace and forgiveness. Nowhere does it say that God’s going to hold onto anything we’ve shared with him so he can throw it back in our faces at a later date.
I came upon a perfect illustration of this with my first computer, a hand-me-down Mac SE a friend gave me when she upgraded. I wrote an essay and sent it by snail mail to a publisher (this was before Al Gore created the Internet). The editor suggested I tweak a couple of points before it was ready for publication, so I fired up the Mac, clicked on the folder containing my essay, and … nothing. I looked in every folder and it was nowhere to be found. The Mac ate my homework.
I called the computer specialists and they said everything you delete on your computer, whether intentionally or accidentally, is still somewhere on your hard drive, but, as the old Maine joke goes, I couldn’t get there from here. That was back in the early 1990s, and they said they could retrieve the essay, but it probably would be more cost effective to just rewrite the piece.
Twelve years, one laptop and one PC later, I’ve discovered that you can still send an item into never-never land with an errant click of the mouse. Even with autosave, I’ve wiped out paragraphs and pages I couldn’t find again. I know they’re somewhere “out there,” I just can’t retrieve them. When we confess our sins to God, he puts them in a no-retrieval zone, rather than on a guilt ledger.
Some people have no problem with the issue of sin, preferring to imagine their sins of omission countered by good deeds are more refined and less flagrant than those acts perpetrated by those who willfully steal or vandalize. They obviously aren’t familiar with Romans 3:23, which says, “… all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God …”
On the other hand, some people feel their sins are too great to be forgiven, but in reality is there any one sin that wasn’t covered on the cross? Jesus didn’t die for what we might think of as more acceptable sins such as little white lies, gossiping or judging. These sins are just as terrible in God’s sight as murder and mayhem because, to God, sin is sin. Isaiah 64:6 (Revised Standard Version) says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Then there are those who feel certain elements of society don’t deserve forgiveness. After World War II ended, U.S. Army Chaplain Henry Gerecke was assigned to the Nazi prisoners awaiting trial at Nuremberg. During the weeks leading up to the trial, he witnessed to these men about the love of Jesus, the only one who could take away their sins.
Of the 13 men in his “congregation,” 11 were sentenced to death. As the first prisoner took his place at the gallows, he said, “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul.” Then he turned to Henry and said, “I’ll see you again.”
Gerecke returned home to vicious letters, some from Christians, labeling him a Jew hater and suggesting he should’ve been hanged alongside his Nazi friends. Can you imagine? These accusers were just as guilty as the Nazis in their desire for these men to get the ultimate death sentence, yet they’d already experienced God’s love and forgiveness themselves. How could they justify keeping it from anyone, no matter how heinous the crime?
God’s grace plan for the human race is seen in First Timothy 2:4, which says, “… who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What truth? Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” That truth.
That was then, this is now, and sin is still sin. But God didn’t design us to bear this burden alone. “You can’t take it with you” doesn’t refer to just material things; it includes all of the emotional baggage and guilt we love to carry around so we can review it again and again.
A London psychiatrist at one of Billy Graham’s crusades told him that in her opinion 70 percent of those in mental institutions could be released immediately if they could find forgiveness — release from their tormenting guilt.
How do we find release from this guilt? Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” The righteous are those who are right with Jesus — those who accept him as their lord and savior.
God’s grace and forgiveness are available to everyone, but he lets us decide what to do with his offer. It’s free for the taking, and, if we accept it, we can truly experience Isaiah 26:3, which says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” What are you waiting for?
Information on Henry Gerecke came from “Seasonal Sermons,” by the Rev. Dr. Robert S. Rayburn.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.