IS FORGIVEN REALLY FORGOTTEN?
Bryan Matthew Dockens
In the New Testament is the promise of God that “their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). By this, some have incorrectly concluded that when God forgives a sin He so forgets it as to be totally unaware of it, and, by extension, Christians who forgive others should do likewise.
This conclusion is inconsistent with the omniscience of God, “For the ways of man are before the eyes of Jehovah, and He ponders all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21). The Almighty transcends time; being eternal (1st Timothy 1:17), He exists beyond the temporal plane (2nd Peter 3:8). Because the Lord knows “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10), He perceives man’s sin, subsequent repentance, and ultimate forgiveness simultaneously. There is never, nor could there be, anything that God is not conscious of.
The Old Testament is replete with depictions of the cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, deliverance, and over again. “Many times He delivered them; but they rebelled against Him by their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity” (Psalm 106:43). If forgiveness truly amounted to absolute erasure from memory, then God would not know about the “many times” they were delivered after rebelling. Yet, He did know.
Paul recorded the hypocrisy of his fellow apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11), and frequent companion in preaching Barnabas (13), both of whom the reader has every reason to believe had repented and been forgiven by the time Paul wrote. Forgiven sin is not, in the absolute sense, forgotten.
When a previously forgiven sin is repeated, a proper rebuke will include a reminder to the sinner that this problem has been dealt with before. If a sinner refrains from duplicating a particular iniquity, then, having been once forgiven, there is no need for a reminder.
The forgotten sin in the Hebrew text should be understood according to the theme of that epistle, which is the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. In the present Testament, sins are forgotten when forgiven through the single sacrifice of Christ, but in the former Testament, with its constant need for animal sacrifices, “there is a reminder of sins every year” (Hebrews 10:3). That’s what it’s about.