As we proceed through Lent, the recurring themes of redemption and forgiveness bubble to the surface of our thoughts. We understand redemption as literally being saved from our own sinfulness through the blood of Christ. Left to ourselves, we would surely fall under the repeated weight of our imperfection and weakness. Through God Almighty’s love and mercy embodied in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, however, we aspire to a salvation we would not otherwise be capable of attaining.
A critical, core component of this second chance for salvation is the willingness of both sides to forget a sinful past. By this, I mean that our redemption is possible only if both God Almighty and each of us as sinners are willing to forget our past sins. Likewise, we are called to be Christ to others, so it follows that we will be expected to forget the past sins of others as well, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
We, therefore, see that redemption, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation are all tied into hearts moving minds to forget past sins from the three-way intersection of God, ourselves, and others. How we navigate this intersection will play a large part on how we navigate our eternal salvation.
God Almighty’s Memory of Our Sins
God’s willingness to forgive is especially supported by a trio of scriptural references. In The Book of Hebrews (8:12) God tells us, “For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.”
In The Book of Psalms (103:12) we find David’s wonderful expression that, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.”
Finally, in Isaiah (43:25) we find God’s powerful assurance that “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.”
People often have difficulty with the notion of a perfect and omniscient God forgetting anything. Scholars debate whether this simply means that He chooses not to act on our past sins or that He, as all-powerful, chooses to forget. Here we must insert one of my favorite saints, St. Therese The Little Flower, who reminds us to trust God with child-like innocence immersed in love. In fact, this wonderfully simple saint encourages us to only look at the present, forget the past, and take good care not to forestall the future.
If we aspire to a future in heaven, then, anything which forestalls that future, such as sin, fear, bitterness, resentment, rancor, or pride, must be forgotten by all involved. St. Therese’s entire theology is based on simple trust rooted in love, and so we can trust that God will do His part in forgetting our past sins once we confess them. The bigger issue is whether we can forgive ourselves and others.
Our Memory of Our Sins
Having confirmed God’s part in this dual forgetting, we must turn to ourselves. It is ironic that the same imperfection which leads us to sin likewise prevents us from forgiving ourselves for the very sins that God is willing to forgive us for! How many people avoid confession altogether out of fear or shame? How many others turn their very confessions into further sin by concealing sin? Finally, how many of us leave the confessional doubting God’s mercy?
Recall the lesson of Judas and Peter. Judas let his pride and doubt lead to hopelessness, despair, and ultimate, final surrender to the Devil after his sin. In contrast, Peter’s love of Christ overwhelmed his pride leading to humble contrition and surrender to Christ’s love and mercy. Both men’s ultimate destiny was not shaped by their respective sins but, rather, by their response to their own sin. What better example of such mercy can we find that Our Lord’s promise of paradise to the contrite thief in Calvary?
The critical difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter loved Christ so much that he was able to forgive and forget his past sin to maintain a present and future with Our Lord. By contrast, Judas loved himself so much that he was unable to look past the humiliation and shame of his terrible sin, even in the face of a Lord for whom no sin is too great that it cannot be forgiven if sincere contrition is present.
Our ability to forget, and forgive, our sinful past and the offenses of others will be largely determined by how much we love God, others, and ourselves. If we truly love God we will do anything and everything in our power to spend eternity with Him, including forgiving and loving others as He wants us to do. If we love ourselves, we will forgive and forget our past sins while still remembering the lessons we have learned from those falls.
The Prodigal Son: To Truly Forgive- Forget!
This famous parable, like many others, challenges us to move beyond the usual human line that we should “forgive but not forget.” The Bible’s interpretation of this thinking is not that we should ignore the past sins of others and but that we should forgive an offender for the sake of Christ and move on with our lives.
The shocking audacity and disrespect of the younger son’s request to his father for his part of his inheritance while his father was still alive is answered with unconditional love and forgiveness. The father does not unleash a litany of ” I told you so” that we would surely be so tempted to engage, and delight, in. Wounds treated with true love and forgiveness do not leave the scars of bitterness, rancor, and revenge.
If we want to dwell with God we cannot dwell in the past but learn from it and apply those lessons to the future. Forgetting in this sense means we forget the sin and keep the lessons from that sin. There are consequences to sin, sometimes even permanent ones, but we limit the damage and recover from the wounds, both to ourselves and others. The father in the parable promised to keep the older son’s inheritance intact, which would have been two-thirds of the estate according to ancient custom. Therefore, the younger son would be foolish or obnoxious to expect anything like the share he had before his fall. However, the father knew that nothing could be gained and everything could be lost by holding the younger son’s sins over him forever. Love does not keep a record of past wrongs ( 1 Cor 13:5). That is the core Biblical essence of forgiving and forgetting.
If the memory is annihilated, the devil is powerless, and it liberates us from a lot of sorrow, affliction and sadness. (St John of the Cross)
The Importance of When We Forget Sin
We are living in a world which forgets sin before it even happens. The concept of sin is denied, ignored, or mocked. Forgetting sin as the world forgets it only leads to more sin, suffering, and tragedy. Ignoring sin will not make it go away. We cannot forget sin so as to stumble into it repeatedly in utter, oblivious denial.
Without a sense of how serious sin is, we cannot understand how much our sins hurt God and, consequently, how great God’s mercy truly is. That, in turn, makes it difficult if not impossible for us to fully trust God nor understand how we should be merciful and forgiving to others.
The time to forget sin is once we have felt contrition for it and confessed it. We cannot heal from sins unless we allow that healing to take place and trust that God will perform that healing. The time to forget the sin of others is once we realize that dwelling on that sin no longer gets us anywhere. That is why we realize that as imperfect human beings we will fall into sin but aspire to learn from those falls and move on.
Scripture confirms God’s promise to forget our sinful past. The harder question as we move through Lent is how willing we are to forget that past in ourselves and others as we reach out to a lovingly forgiving, and forgetting, God. Our ability to manage this necessary forgetting of past sin in a constructive and productive way is critical to our eternal destiny. In a world which forgets sin out of convenience, we must learn to forget past, confessed sin out of eternal necessity.
2018 Gabriel Garnica