I heard a story in the church I visited last Sunday that was both poignant and humorous. A man told a story about taking his mother to church shortly after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The sermon that day was based on James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
As the preacher talked about the value of Christians confessing their sins to each other and not carrying the weight of guilt by themselves, he also warned that confession should only be made to trustworthy people who would not allow the information to become a seed for gossip. At the end of the service, the dear lady leaned over to her son and said, “That’s me! People can share whatever they want with me. In five minutes, I won’t remember a thing!”
I would probably be cautious about telling that story if I hadn’t heard it spoken directly by this man who was respectfully and lovingly remembering the gracious heart of his mom. I have seen both family members and friends have their lives devastated by the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s. To lose a loved one, mentally, long before losing them physically is especially painful. And for those persons who can no longer trust their minds to be truthful with them, the inability to remember is certainly one of the most frustrating and fearful conditions. It is hard to imagine many things worse.
There is one exception – when memory loss is an intentional choice. No, I’m not talking about deliberately forgetting to buy the skim milk that was on the shopping list because it tastes like dirty water. Or forgetting that it was your turn to take out the trash, knowing that your brother would have to do it. Or intentionally forgetting that neither of those are hypothetical!
Actually, I’m talking about something that is not humanly possible. We do not have the capacity to choose to forget. We can choose to ignore, deny, or forgive, but we cannot make an intentional choice to forget. That is an ability that belongs exclusively to God. Jeremiah 31:34 records these amazing words spoken by God - "And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins."
Wow! Did you get how powerful that is? God, who is the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, unlimited Creator of all that exists, says He will deliberately choose to forget the sins He has forgiven. He doesn’t say He will hide them away in a secret place in case he needs to pull them out and hold them over our heads. He says He will use His unlimited power to cause Himself to completely remove them from His unlimited memory.
I’ll be honest with you. (Ok, I have been honest all the way through this, so let me rephrase that.) I am going to make a confession. I can’t completely wrap my mind around that reality. And I think the problem is that I can’t forget all my sins. Sometimes some bad decision, impure thought, harsh or careless word from long ago creeps back into my memory and I feel guilty all over again. How could God really forgive and forget?
I can’t completely understand it, but I have to trust that His word is true and that my life matters enough to Him that He has forgotten my sins, but has never forgotten His love for me.