Does God Forget?

Does God Forget?

Can you imagine if God were forgetful?  “Oh my, what was I doing today?  Was it parting the Black Sea?  Or was it Yellow?  Red? I know it was some color.”  That would be silly.

Clearly, however, there are scriptures that say God forgets.  But does he forget in the sense that you and I forget, like we forgot where we put our keys?  No, God doesn’t forget where he puts things or what he’s doing.  He can’t forget where he parked his car or which sea he should part.  We must then consult scriptures to find out what it means when it says God “forgets.”  

Time and again, Israel accuses God of forgetting them.  The psalmist says, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  He recounts various troubles and then “[h]e says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’ ”  (Psa 10:1, 11)  Calvin* says here that “the ungodly say to themselves, in their hearts, that God takes no concern whatever in the affairs of men.”  In other words, God has forgotten by ignoring their evil practices so much so that he seems to not notice it.  However, we know that this is not the case because God only seems slow because he wants to give everyone the chance to repent and come to him.  (1 Pet 3:9)

The prophet Isaiah says, “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!  For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.   But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’”  (Isaiah 49:13-14)  Like Psalm 10, Israel accuses God of ignoring their troubles.  But in the very next verse, God tells them he could no more forget them than a mother can forget her child.

Hebrews 8:12, in discussing Jesus as our High Priest quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34, says, “I will remember theirs sins no more.”  According to Hobbs**, God not only forgives our sins, but does not even call them to mind once he has forgiven them because of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.  The letter to the Hebrews repeats this theme in Chpt 10:15-18 where the author says “‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”  (v. 17-18)  Again, God can “forget” our sins because Jesus has made the all-time sacrifice for them.  

It’s not that God does not have the ability to recall certain events because one of his attributes is that he is all knowing (omniscient).  God:

  • Has infinite understanding (Psa 147:5)
  • Knows all things (Psa 139:4; 1 Joh 3:20)
  • No creature hidden from him (Heb 4:13)
  • Is acquainted with all of our ways (Psa 139:3)
  • Understands our every intent (1 Chr 28:9) 

The idea of God’s forgetfulness is that, although he has the ability to call our sins to mind, he chooses not to because Jesus made the final and ultimate sacrifice for those sins on the cross.  My favorite picture of God’s forgiveness/forgetfulness is Psalm 103, particularly verse 12:  “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  Think about that for a moment.  When traveling east, you can never travel so far as to be traveling west again.  If you went around the globe to the north, you would eventually be travelling south and vise-versa.  But when going east or west, you can never not be traveling east or not be traveling west.  Once forgotten by God, your sins are so far away from you, they can never be reached again.  Your forgiveness is final and eternal.  WOW!

When it is said that you should forgive and forget, remember that biblical forgiveness isn’t putting it out of your memory (which would be impossible), but it is not holding a trespass against someone and not bringing it to mind in the future.  Practically, this means that you do not bring up past errors when you say you have forgiven someone.  You don’t “throw it in their face” as the saying goes. 

Finally, and best of all, if you have not yet received this forgetfulness freely available to you from Christ, you can take the opportunity now to ask God for forgiveness as he is faithful and just, and he will purify you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Don’t live one more day with your trespasses haunting you!

*John Calvin’s Commentaries, Text Courtesy of Christian Classics Etherial Library, as accessed from

**Hobbs, Herschel H., A Verse by Verse Exposition of Hebrews, Challenges to Bold Discipleship, 1971, ISBN 0-8054-1323-5.

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