On Forgetfulness

There is good and bad forgetfulness:

We all have moments of forgetfulness. Obviously as you get older this can become an evermore pressing problem. Dementia and the like are some of the extreme manifestations of this. I am getting older, but hopefully I still more or less have all my faculties. But you gotta wonder at times…

A few weeks ago I ordered two books from two different online bookshops. They have now both arrived. They are the SAME book! My mind really is turning to mush! And that is not the first time I have bought a book that I already have. Oh dear.

But some things can be much worse. Forgetting your anniversary or your spouse’s birthday is a real no-no. Other things can just be really annoying: forgetting where you put your car keys or your phone. Sometimes I can spend an hour looking for one of my books because I forgot where exactly I had shelved it.

But the worst sort of forgetfulness is spiritual in nature. When we forget God, then we are in a really bad way. As the Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn once famously remarked in his 1983 Templeton Prize: “Over half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘We have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened’.”

Yep, and Scripture makes this point over and over again. For example, just this morning I read this in Judges 3:7: “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.”

Of course the whole book of Judges is about this: the people forget about God, turn to sinful idolatry, they get in a heap of trouble, and then God sends a deliverer (judge) to bail them out of their troubles. But it happens over and over again in the book.

The Israelites had a very short memory. But we all do of course. So the Bible repeatedly speaks about not forgetting God and his ways. Here are just some of these passages:

Deuteronomy 4:9-10 Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’

Deuteronomy 8:11-16 Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.

Psalm 103:1-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Jeremiah 18:15-16 But my people have forgotten me;
    they make offerings to false gods;
they made them stumble in their ways,
    in the ancient roads,
and to walk into side roads,
    not the highway,
making their land a horror,
    a thing to be hissed at forever.
Everyone who passes by it is horrified
    and shakes his head.

But there is a flip side to all this which is really great news. I refer to divine forgetfulness. God is omniscient and perfect in all knowledge, but he can choose to forget our sin. That has gotta be such comforting news. Consider just a few texts on this:

Isaiah 43:25 I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isaiah 49:13-18 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.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.

Jeremiah 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Hosea 11:7-9 My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

Hebrews 8:12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 10:17 Then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Many more such passages could be offered here. And some, like the Isaiah 49 passage really deserve a whole article to explore the riches and wonders found therein. But the lessons should be clear here. There is a very bad sort of forgetfulness and a very good sort of forgetfulness.

It is always bad when we forget our Lord and what he has done for us. We all do it far too often. And for that we do deserve his wrath. But the good news is, in his deep, deep love for us, he actually forgets our sin and disobedience and waywardness.

Sure, as our heavenly father he will chastise and discipline his children when we do forget him or turn from him. But the promise that God has made that he would ‘never leave us nor forsake us’ is gloriously wonderful news that we must always cling to (Hebrews 13:5, quoting Deuteronomy 31:8).

Don’t ever forget!

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2 Replies to “On Forgetfulness”

  1. Hi Bill, you’re so precious and so brave, sharing your current thoughts and behaviour!

    We as Christian, often hide behind anonymity, (I had to spell check tis word) and often think, when ministering to aged care seniors, locally, that we need to be honest with each other, only then can we share our heartfelt journeys, especially as we get older.

    Let’s be brave and “hang the clothe out for drying” unafraid of what others may think of us, and be true to God’s calling, “being the hands and feet and mouth piece of Jesus” in a dark and troubled world…

    Keep going going Bill, you’re a mouthpiece for all of us.

    Cheers & blessings


  2. I forget scriptures and where they are all the time. I will though always proclaim Jesus the Christ, to anyone who is prepared to listen. I will always proclaim the reason I enjoy such happiness through my injuries and disease is Jesus Christ’s Gospel. If one can keep the message in their hearts, and live the gospel as much as possible, then God is happy with that.

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