“My sins are gone! They are cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness.” That is a common phrase among Christians today. There are posts on Facebook and it is even the title (or the primary thought) of several major CCM songs (see here). But can it really be so? Does God really FORGET?
Sea of Forgetfulness
I am absolutely certain that when God forgives our sin, He intends for that forgiveness to be eternal! It is not in the nature of God to drag up forgiven sins and point them out to us. Instead, the devil is the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10) and he is constantly accusing us before God. He (devil/satan) is also busy accusing us of things we did before we were forgiven, and telling us that we are no better than we were before. When that happens, we can just remind the devil that Jesus’ blood has bought our forgiveness and that he (the devil) has no claim to us any longer! (John 8:36)
What it really means
When people say that our sins have been cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, they are referring to the Scripture at Micah 7:19 (NIV), “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Although the other translations may differ slightly, none mention “forgetfulness.” That part evidently comes from Hebrews 10:17, ‘Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”’ (A similar verse is found in Jeremiah 31:34 which also says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.“) But, even when taken together, they still do not add up to “sea of forgetfulness.” The thought may generally be true (with exceptions) but the general use of the phrase is misleading. It is likely that someone came up with the catchy phrase as part of a sermon and it has been passed on until – in many people’s minds – it is almost Scripture.
God is not forgetful
Neither the Micah verse nor the verse in Hebrews says anything about a “sea of forgetfulness.” The Hebrews verse (Heb 10:17) says that God promised to “remember no more.” That does not suggest that God forgets. When one forgets something, they cannot remember it, even when they try. But to CHOOSE not to remember something is different. It means the person (or God in this instance) COULD remember the event, but they choose not to do so. Out of love, mercy, and grace, our Savior has promised that he will not remember (or drag back up) the sins that we have confessed and accepted his forgiveness for (Hebrews 10:3). Actually, I prefer that my God is not forgetful – but instead, loves me so much that he refuses to remind me of my past! (Note1)
God can remember if it is appropriate
In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus taught His disciples how important it is to forgive one another. Peter had asked how many times one had to forgive a brother who continued to sin against him (and supposedly, return and apologize). Peter suggested seven times but Jesus said 70 times 7 (490 times) we must forgive. (That is a very large number which probably suggests that to NOT forgive should never be an option.)
To illustrate the point, Jesus told about a “certain king” (v.23, KJV, this is specific – not a parable that might be open for interpretation). This king had a servant that owed the king a HUGE debt of 10,000 bags of gold!. (Some people have estimated that, in today’s money, the debt would have exceeded $50 billion dollars!) There is no mention of how such a debt came about but the most likely scenario would be that the servant had systematically stolen large sums from his employer. Verse 25 says, “Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt..”
Example of forgiveness
Verse 26 continues the story, “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’” It is impossible to imagine HOW the servant could have repaid the loan since it amounted to about 410 times the average yearly salary in that day! But the king displayed true grace and mercy – and forgave him (v27), “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Notice that the debt was CANCELED.
Example of not forgiving
After having been forgiven himself, the same servant refused to forgive a small loan that he had made to another servant. The scene is almost entirely identical as before but this time, the servant had the opportunity to show forgiveness – but he did not. When the other servant (who owed a very small amount, equal to about 3 months salary) offered the exact same plea as he had offered to the king, the first servant had the second sent to prison.
Remembering the canceled debt
The other servants saw this and were “outraged” (v.31). They told the king about the events and he had the first servant recalled.
Matthew 18:32-34, 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Although the debt of unforgiveness is deadly, it was not the servant’s primary (financial) debt. It is clear that the King recalled the old debt and the original penalty was reinstated (“until he should pay back all he owed.”)
Moral of the story
Actually, there are several very important doctrinal issues that can be drawn from this story. Some teachers try to exempt this story from doctrine stating that it is a parable and was intended only for Jesus’ audience at the time. Note again, that it was a “certain” king – not a parable. Also, look at verse 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” So, the application DOES apply to all of us.
Here are the issues that come to mind:
- Forgiveness is every person’s responsibility. Mt 10:8, “Freely you have received; freely give.”
- God’s forgiveness of our sins is open to recall if we fail to demonstrate forgiveness of others.
- God does not forget.
These issues are significant to the original purpose of this article. (To examine whether the phrase “Sea of God’s Forgetfulness” is valid.)
Although God chooses not to remember our sins after we accept Jesus as our Savior (and accept His forgiveness), neither is God forgetful. Our sins are not beyond His reach or recall. As long as we continue to live for Him (and treat others with the grace and mercy that we have received), the state of our forgiveness is secure. However, if we “backslide” and reject the forgiveness purchased by His Son (Hebrews 10:26-31), or for whatever other reasons He may deem appropriate (like unforgiveness), we may be called back into account for our (previously canceled) sins.
The bottom line is that the phrase “Sea of God’s Forgetfulness” is not Biblical. It stands in opposition to the Scriptures in both the precise words and the spirit of the Scriptures.
Note1: Back in the 70’s, Connie Smith wrote a beautiful song (recorded by Dottie Rambo and others), “Remind me, dear Lord.” It is a nice song and the lyrics tell of our unworthy nature, offset by the mercy of God. The song speaks of the fact that Jesus died for our sins and some other very positive Christian themes. But the essence of the song is that God should remind us of our past. Here is a quote from the chorus, “Show me where you brought me from: And where I could have been.” That is NOT something that God chooses to do. He does not remind us of our past (even though the devil does). Instead, He views us as justified (Romans 5:1).
(This article was originally published in November, 2014 and updated in August, 2015.)
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