The Bible has a lot to say about God forgetting and remembering, and if we do not understand these words properly, we may get the wrong idea about some things. The most notable passage about God remembering is associated with Noah when the floodwaters were subsiding. Genesis 8:1 says, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth…”
God remembered Noah? Had He forgotten about him before that? We don’t want to give ourselves the impression that Noah slipped God’s mind, and then one day God thought, “What was I supposed to do today? Oh, that’s right! Noah is on that ark, and I’d better do something to help him.” Remembering doesn’t have the absolute literal usage that implies having first forgotten; the idea is better thought of as God honoring His word. We also see God remembering Abraham (Genesis 19:29) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22), among others. Sometimes His remembering results in punishment, like when He remembers Babylon in Revelation 16:19.
But I want to focus on forgetting more than remembering. God’s remembering does not mean He has forgotten, but are there things He does not remember? Fortunately there are! Looking into the future, Isaiah 65:17 prophesies, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”
What are the “former things” that “shall not be remembered”? The preceding verse says, “the former troubles are forgotten, and are hidden from my eyes.” All the worries and cares that made life hard, everything that is a product of the curse, all sin and its ugly consequences will be remembered no more. The author of Hebrews adds another thought to God forgetting: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (8:12).”
Taken together, Isaiah and Hebrews teach that in the eternal state, God will not remember our sin, and neither will we remember the bad things from life. How is that possible? How can God, who is omniscient, forget that we have sinned? If God forgot our sin, and we remembered it, we could make the case that we know more than God in that regard, and that is foolishness. Alan W. Gomes, in his book 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell, says the idea in these verses is not about a strict forgetting, but about the events themselves no longer having their old effect. The sins that formerly separated us from God will no longer come between us. We will be treated as if we were completely sinless.
No, God does not forget, but He treats us as if He has. “Forgive and forget,” we often say, but that is impossible. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Gomes continued, “God no longer ‘remembers’ our transgressions in the sense that He forgives them, treating us as if we had never committed them; He no longer ‘brings them to mind’ in order to punish us for them.”
I’m glad to have a God who remembers, yet treats us like He forgets.