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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Inbox: Down the Memory Hole?

Tertius writes:

Your chat with IC made me think of ‘I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.’ ”

Quite so. IC talked a little about the potential dangers of making dogmatic theological statements on the basis of figurative language, or what are sometimes called biblical “anthropomorphisms”. He points out that the writers of scripture use:

“… human-style metaphors, like the hand of God’, because we know what ‘hands’ are ... not because God the Father has a physical body like ours.”

“I will remember” is another of these human-style metaphors.

Other Things Isaiah Says

The statement Tertius refers to is originally a quotation from Isaiah, who also maintains that God knows everything, including “things not yet done”. So rather than drawing the rather inconsistent theological conclusion that our God experiences lapses of memory, I agree with IC that we ought to view such statements as figurative language. Isaiah also says, “You have cast all my sins behind your back”, though God is spirit and cannot be said to have either front or back.

The prophet is simply using recognizable human imagery to make a spiritual point. We should not get stuck on figures of speech, but look instead at what they tell us.

Stricken from the Record

The sense of “remember no more” here is surely judicial rather than memory-related. The writer to Hebrews is saying that the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ has put those who trust him for our salvation in a rather enviable position: our sins will never be held against us. Those sins have been stricken from the official record. This is consistent with Revelation 20, which tells us:
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
If that were the case for believers, we’d be in deep trouble because “all have sinned”. But we are not judged “according to what we have done”. That record is expunged forever. (In fact, Christians are not to be judged with the unbelieving world at all, but that’s another subject.)

The Context of Hebrews 10

The statement Tertius quotes from Hebrews also comes within a legal context. The subject of the passage is the inadequacy of sacrifices under the Law of Moses to “make perfect those who draw near”. That dilemma has been remedied perfectly “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.

Legal issue solved, done and dusted.

God’s memory has not been selectively redacted. Matt Slick makes the point that Hebrews 11, which follows directly on from the chapter Tertius mentions, contains a wonderful record of the “people of old” who were justified by their faith. Slick says, “None of their sins are listed even though they were sinners. Why? Because God remembers their sins no more”.

Better Than Forgotten

Slick is not quite right though: it’s even better than a memory wipe. He has overlooked the reference in Hebrews 11 to “Rahab the prostitute”. What Rahab did for a living has not slipped God’s mind: it’s right there in the text for us to see. But “by faith [she] did not perish with those who were disobedient”, by faith she has been “commended” and by faith she will one day (with us) be “made perfect”. God has done something better than forget Rahab’s occupation: he has wiped out all charges against her.

It might be nice to have my sins banished down some cosmic memory hole. But unless every mind in the universe is to be afflicted with permanent amnesia, that’s not about to happen. Instead, I have something even better: the guarantee of God himself that in his court, my sins will never be brought up against me again.

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