God’s Forgiveness: Amnesia or Love?
Talking to my kids recently about God’s forgiveness helped me open up my own heart to His incredible mercy again. I realised again how easily I become familiar to these juggernaut mind-blowing truths. No wonder Jesus urged us to come as a child.
David begins Psalm 103 with an incredible expression of praise. “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” (Psalm 103:1, 2). He then reminds us (and himself) that one of these many benefits is that God “forgives all your iniquities” (v. 3).
The Hebrew word for “forgive” (salach) appears over 50 times in the Old Testament. Used only of God, it never represents man’s forgiveness. God is the source of forgiveness; we can only forgive because we have tasted the divine mercy of God’s forgiveness (salach). The word “iniquities” (Hebrew: avon), derived from a word (avah) meaning, “to bend” or “distort,” refers to the evil-bent within us. God forgives not just our sins, the fruit of our warped nature, but also forgives the terribly distorted, sinful root itself. As the psalmist rhetorically mused: “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). We all know the answer to this one.
A little later in Psalm 103, David returns to the matter of forgiveness. He writes: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (vv. 11, 12). First, David probably had the stars in mind when he wrote about the “heavens” and even though he had no telescope to confirm his hunch, he marvelled at the awesome scale of God’s mercy towards us.
Secondly, David says that God has removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west. Notice, he didn’t say as far as the north is from the south. If one travels north far enough, one will reach a point—the arctic pole—when one begins to travel south. North and south join as one crosses the poles. However, you can travel east for eternity and never be travelling west. David’s choice of east versus west is profound. God has separated us from our sins as far as the east is from the west; in other words, absolutely and entirely.
Through Jeremiah, God declared: “For I will forgive (salach) their iniquity (avon), and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, see also Isaiah 43:25). God does not have amnesia; He is not suffering from partial memory loss. We need not fear; God is not going to suddenly regain consciousness, pull out our record of wrongdoings and rehearse the horrors of the sin He has already pardoned. God chooses to remember our sin no more! Because of Christ’s completed work on the cross, His forgiveness is complete and total. Phew!
What’s more, God’s forgiveness is not out of obligation, but flows from His Father’s heart. David writes: “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (v. 13). The word David uses for “father” is the Hebrew word ab, from which the word Abba originates (see Romans 8:15). Apparently, it’s the first word a Hebrew baby can speak; akin to our ma’ ma or da’ da. Thus, divine forgiveness is positioned in the context of a father and a baby! God forgives our sin as easily and as completely as any human father would pardon the indiscretions of his baby child! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can have the same confidence in God’s forgiveness that David enjoyed because He remains so faithful!
Then David explains: “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (v. 14). The phrase, “He knows our frame” means that God understands our constitution: He knows our temptations, our weaknesses and fragility. And He, because of Christ, not only forgives us—completely, totally, absolutely and entirely—His love lifts us out of our sinfulness to a higher plane of His holiness. We do not have to earn His forgiveness; but because we have it, we are swept into a life of loving faithfulness. And herein lies a crucial qualification: when we grasp the glorious, mind-blowing, soul-drenching reality of God’s forgiveness, we find ourselves despising even the smallest smidgen of sin. We learn to properly hate what God hates, knowing it cost Him so outrageously.