When omniscience forgets

This is not divine amnesia, but a divine promise to perpetuate my eternal joy.

Carolyn Livingston, a teacher and a nurse, has an M.A. in religion. She writes from Queensland, Australia.

Their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12; cf. Heb. 10:17; Jer. 31:34).

What does this promise mean? If it means that the sin aspect of my present earthly life is to be completely blotted out from the memory of God, myself, and other intelligent beings living in eternity, what then is the significance of my life here?

Let me begin with an imaginative trip to celestial places. I see five men walking and talking together in happy companionship, as though they have known each other for years. One in particular holds himself with regal bearing. The other four seem especially close to one another, even though the first one is obviously a very good friend of them all.

Taking aside the one with the regal look, I ask, "You wouldn't be Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would you?"

He smiles, a little surprised, but answers quickly, "I am, yes. And over there are my good friends, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah."

"How wonderful!" I exclaim. "I've always wanted to ask you just how you felt that time you threw Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into the fiery furnace."

To my astonishment, the most puzzled look crosses his face as he exclaims in disbelief, "Me? Throw my friends into fire? Never. But here's Gabriel; maybe he can help you find the one you are looking for."

A tall figure approaches us from a little distance. The look on his face is reassuring as he whispers, "The former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind" (Isa. 65:17). "Their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 10:17). I am too embarrassed to know what to say now, but he saves me from my predicament by inviting me to listen to the choir on the sea of glass.

What an experience! They are singing about a slain Lamb, about redemption from sin, about salvation, and about just judgments (see especially Rev. 5 and 15). The focus of their adoration is their King, Jesus. I too fall down to worship Him, hardly able to look at Him in His great majesty. But I do notice a special caring look He gives me, as though He perfectly understands all my past life and exactly how I feel about all I have ever known. And those scarred hands. I wonder if others nearby feel the same as I do.

I ask the man nearest to me to tell me how I can explain this song to my friends, and all about the scarred hands. His eyes light up with pleasure as he tells me what a great experience it is to sing the song and how he loves those scarred hands.

But a blank look comes into his eyes when I ask him how the scars came about, and what sin is the experience the song describes redemption from.

Again Gabriel comes to my rescue. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:12), he whispers. I have been saved from embarrassment. But somehow I feel unsatisfied.

Joy and the anguish

I had better leave my imaginative trip and return to reality. Maybe Jesus' pre-Calvary description of the disciples' future joy will help me understand. "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:21,22). This joy is apparently so great that even a keen awareness of previous anguish diminishes the present experience of that anguish to a "remembereth-no-more" status. Yet there is no implication of a complete loss of memory.

Then I look in the Old Testament. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and re hearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Ex. 17:14). A memorial to remember a nonremembrance!

Again, if David was so pleased that his transgressions had been removed "as far as the east is from the west," why is the remembrance of his fear of God's displeasure and his pleas for mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing perpetuated for us in Psalms 32, 38, and 51; and the background story of his sins available in detail for our perusal in the book of 2 Samuel?

Nathan announced God's forgiveness (2 Sam. 12:13: "The Lord also hath put away thy sin"). David accepted this forgiveness with deep feelings (Ps. 32, especially verse 5: "Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin"). If "remembering no more" meant amnesia on God's part, David's part, or the part of contemporary or future witnesses, how come we can read today that Nathan immediately proceeded to warn David about the con sequences of his deed in giving "great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam. 12:14)?

Sometimes it seems we want to re move the guilt by removing the record. But David shows us that one of the prerequisites for removal of sin is actual presentation of the record to God in confession. "I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:5).

David seems more anxious for deep cleansing from his actual sin (Ps. 51:7) and removal of the guilt connected with the record (verse 14) than for mere removal of the record. He wishes God to "wash [him]," and then he will be "whiter than snow" (verse 51:7).

No haunting past

If God removes my sin (including that pride and self-righteousness that make me anxious to appear good in my own goodness), creates a right spirit within me (verse 10), and covers me with the robe of Christ's righteousness, I need not feel anxious about the knowledge of my past haunting me in the future.

My sins will be as good as forgotten in the eyes of the universe as well as in my own eyes. The judicial examination before the unfallen universe of a record of the lives of the saints is significant here. It will be one of the key factors in enabling the unfallen to accept the new comers by choosing to forget the culpability of their sinful past. They will see that the blood of Jesus has indeed cleansed the sinner and the record of his/ her sin, and will put any knowledge of the past in a new perspective involving no guilt, no shame, and no indictment.

The private conscience has long been cleared. Now the public conscience will be free, too. The wider knowledge of the record actually facilitates the more effective blotting out of that same record.

Nevertheless, I believe I will be keenly and intelligently aware of the high cost of sin and my own salvation. I believe a capacity to be aware of my past will enable me to see greater significance in my eternal salvation and thus increase my future joy. Like Moses' record of the defeat of Amalek, my existence in eternity will be God's memorial of having "put out the remembrance of ... [my sins] from under heaven" (Ex. 17:14) an eternal memorial of God's special forgetting.


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Carolyn Livingston, a teacher and a nurse, has an M.A. in religion. She writes from Queensland, Australia.

September 1992

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