Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Forget vs. remember no more

Posted by Robert C. on July 10, 2007

Bloggernacle posts here, here and here got me thinking about the scriptural difference between forgetting and rember[ing] no more. At least in the Book of Mormon, it seems that the people forget God, or are “slow to remember” him. On the other hand, when we repent, scriptures do not say that God will forget our sins, but that he will “remember [them] no more.”

When I visited Carthage Jail, someone said a blood stain used to be on the floor and asked why it wasn’t still there. The tour guide said that when President Kimball was visiting there one time, he asked that it be removed so that as a people we would not be tempted to be unforgiving. Whether apocryphal or not, I think that’s a marvelous sentiment. As God forgives us by remembing our sins no more, so we should forgive by remembering others’ sins no more. That doesn’t mean we will necessarily forget the sinful action, but we will not remember the action as a sin. Rather, we will proceed “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philip 3:13; yes I know this sort of undermines the tidy semantic distinction I was aiming for, but I don’t want to change the title of the post, so perhaps in the comments we can hash out the degree to which there is or isn’t really a forget vs. remember no more distinction in scripture and, more importantly, what these various terms and phrases mean…).

20 Responses to “Forget vs. remember no more”

  1. Jim F. said

    Obviously there is an important sense in which to forget something and to remember it no more mean exactly the same thing. However, perhaps one way to start thinking about the distinction is to think of remembering as something we do: I remember the offenses of another; I keep those offenses in play. To remember them no more is to stop doing something. Forgetting seems more like losing something: I knew about that offense, but now I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I have stopped doing something.

    I think that is an accurate description of what the distinction mean with regard to my remembering no more. Does it also apply to God?

  2. robf said

    Jim, I think this is a meaningful approach. How then does “remember no more” differ from something with perhaps a more negative connotation, like “ignore” or “disregard”?

  3. Robert C. said

    The distinction I had in mind for the post comes simply from my own forgetfulness/absent-mindedness: I often try to remember something but fail to. Like my dentist appointment last week that I forgot about, despite my wife’s repeated reminders. I didn’t actively choose to forget the appointment, but clearly other things distracted me from remembering, so I’m surely culpable. Despite my culpability, I think somehow it would be silly to say that I made a conscious effort not to remember my appointment. But when God says he “remembers our sins no more,” I think this connotes a conscious decision (so-to-speak) on his part to not continue conjuring the memory of that sin, or not to “keep those offenses in play” as Jim put it, rather than the connotation that God gets distracted or distracts himself from remembering our sins.

    I think this is basically what Jim F. is getting, though I (obviously) need to think harder about this (since I’m not sure I’ve really articulated a meaningful distinction here…).

    Also, I often forget people’s names. But oftentimes I remember the name later (“in the stairway” as I guess the French say, see the penultimate paragraph here). If God remembers my sins no more, then I don’t think there is any danger of God remembering them in the future. In this sense, perhaps Paul “only” forgets what is behind, because at some point in the future it might be helpful for him to remember a mistake he learned from in his past, whereas God “remembers no more” because he doesn’t really need to learn from our past mistakes in the same sense that we should learn from our own mistakes. I wonder, however, if there’s any basis for this thinking in the Greek words or Hebrew allusions in the passages in Hebrews and Philippians I linked to above (I somehow doubt it, which is why I’m posting this thought now before I learn that it can’t be defended!).

  4. Jim F. said

    I don’t know how much traction my thinking about “remember no more” has when it comes to thinking about what the phrase means in scripture. For me it seems to mean that I stop harboring that remembrance, but I don’t know how to think of God’s not remembering as a parallel to that.

    robf: not harboring remembrance seems phenomenologically different from disregarding or ignoring something. The former carries with it the idea that I am no longer doing something. The latter two don’t seem to me to have that connotation.

  5. Robert, I appreciate you post. Thanks. I’ve linked it in my lesson notes for #24. I think your question & the answer relate to John 16:20-24. As a mother I still remember how the pregnancy & birth felt. To think that the arriving baby erases all memory of the previous misery is silly. But what replaces this misery is profound and something that causes my heart to rejoice and brings a joy that “no man taketh” away. The eternal posterity aspect is implied here, or a fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. In fact, it is such profound joy that it overwhelms any further needs, as spoken in John 16:23. “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.” I find this lack of need interestingly opposite to “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” How comforting! So, our sufferings will be over-ridden by joy that is sufficient and a promise of suffiency accompanies the satisfaction.–Nanette

  6. Oops. Re: #5, I misread verse 23 due to my failure to incorporate the JST correctly. Jesus is actually saying that “…in that day ye shall ask me nothing but it shall be done unto you.” Not that we won’t have any wants, but rather we won’t have any UNFULFILLED wants. Sorry for that oversight.–Nanette

  7. douglas Hunter said

    Robert,

    Thanks for this post, I think it opens up interesting possibilities to consider how different aspects of memory are portrayed in scriptures, to consider the memory of God, and also to think about how memory functions institutionally and most importantly in our spiritual lives. The last lesson I presented in EQ was on Forgiveness. We are all familiar with the phrase “forgive and forget” which occurs in the lesson several times. When I asked the men what the phrase means there were several answers but the most comfortable one seemed to be that we do not forget, we do the emotional work necessary so that we no longer hold on to resentment and anger that was our response to the sin in the first place. And in this we touch on the other vector of your post the role that memory plays in our emotional lives.

  8. Todd Wood said

    Robert, thanks!

    I will always remember my sin. And rejoice throughout eternity that God will not bring them up against me.

  9. brianj said

    Robert, I’ve been thinking a lot about this post but I still have nothing to add. Well, except: Thanks!

  10. Robert C. said

    Nanette, thanks for the reference to John 16, esp. the JST of verse 23 which I think is very interesting.

    Douglas, thanks for the SWK manual reference. Thinking about how we use various related phrases today, “forgive and forget,” “forget it,” “never mind,” etc. certainly helps in thinking about all this. I think the sense of “forget” that SWK is using is in fact very similar to the “remembereth no more” of John 16:21.

    Todd, this is a great sentiment, thank you very much. I think this may be what Mosiah 4:12 is getting at, at least indirectly:

    And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins.

  11. BrianJ said

    “retain a remission”

    Almost sounds like an oxymoron, like “holding on to nothing.” But you’ve helped to make it make sense. God cannot (okay, maybe he can) actually forget anything—and the record of the act is still somewhere. Perhaps he actively keeps those records locked away?

    Todd Wood, #8: I wonder if there’s some part of the Atonement that can help me forget my sins. There are many things I’d like to not be reminded of for eternity, even if only once in a while.

  12. douglas Hunter said

    Robert, I agree that “remember no more” and SWK’s “forgive and forget” are similar but what struck me about your post in the context of teaching the lesson is the difference between the divine and the human. We so often need to do considerable emotional work inorder to fulfill the best intention behind the idea of “forgive and forget”. Here and there Scriptures suggest that God has an emotional life, he weeps in sorrow, he can be moved to anger against us etc. But is there, for the divine the same need to process, or confront powerful emotions as there is for us? Does God have an unconscious? Should we think of our sin, for example, as having a powerful emotional effect on God, that God needs to go through the kind of emotional work that we do to be reconsiled to his emotions?

  13. nhilton said

    BrianJ, re: #11 part of the Atonement certainly helps us forget the sins of others. Without the forgetting, victims of sins would forever be tormented, remembering their previous suffering.

    I think the same holds true for the sinner. If we don’t forget our sins, knowing that Christ has atoned for them, we are forever tormented. This is what I think happens to those who refuse to allow the atonement to work in their lives: eternal torment.

  14. stewart said

    As I understand the atonement, if we TRULY repent we in fact become a different person and the person to whom a sim belonged is no more. As to how a memory fades, I can only relate the sweet spirit of peace that falls upon one who has been forgiven. The sin is no longer part of us and as I understand is blotted out from our “permanent record.”
    I agree that if we will not let go and forget our own sins we unnecessarily torture ourselves and show a distinct lack of faith. Even worse is when we fail to forget the sins committed by others and take them upon ourselves. The weight of not forgiving others their mistakes can be crushing upon our own souls. Every time we remember, we relive the hurt just as though it was happening again and again.
    I believe that as far as the Lord is concerned in this case, he is just emphasizing a point and not speaking in some dualistic code designed to fool us.

  15. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #11, I’ve wondered whether we are supposed to forget our sins or not. Paul seems to advocate “forgetting those things which are behind” (as I quote in Philippians above), but I think there’s a good case to be made for Todd’s view. That is, I tend to believe that God turns our bitter memories into sweet ones because they bring us to Christ and we learn from them (I think C. S. Lewis suggests something similar in The Great Divorce).

    I think these verses in Alma 36 are particularly relevant, where Alma remembers his sins as part of the conversion process, but then after he is converted he says he remembers the pains of his sins no more (v. 19). But then he says “yea I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” I’m inclined to take this as saying that “the memory of [his] sins” is referring to the pain of his sins, but I think it could also be read to mean the memory of his sins was simply far from his mind.

    Douglas #12, I very much agree with the idea that God experiences emotion (there are two articles in recent Dialogue issues dealing with this idea, “The Theology of Desire” is in the title…). I tend to think of forgiveness as requiring hard emotional work also. But there’s another sense in which it takes more work to harbor a grudge, and the act of forgiveness seems to be described as more of a surrendering that I’m not sure is aptly described as work. Since I was just looking at Alma 36, I guess I’m inclined to think sort of in terms of it getting worse before it gets better. That is, in Alma’s conversion it seems he becomes painfully aware of his sins before he is healed/converted. When we harbor a grudge, I think we have to painfully look at ourselves as harboring that grudge. But if we never hold a grudge in the first place, I think forgiveness might be easy—like water off a duck’s back they say, right? I think this is related to the “my yoke is easy” vs. “take up your cross” tension. In many ways, following Christ is more demanding than anything else, and yet, paradoxically, it is so much easier than any other path….

    nhilton #13, I think you’re right about the need to forgive ourselves. I like how Stephen Robinson makes this point in his Believing Christ book—if we really believe Christ, we will believe that we can really be forgiven. I think this is intimately related to the conversion process itself: seeing suffering reminds me of my new-found, God-given desire to give myself completely to others in love and service.

    stewart #14, well put!

  16. BrianJ said

    Robert and stewart: your comments illustrate a problem: are our sins forgotten by God (blotted out) and by us, or are they held outside of remembrance by God but in remembrance by us (as with Alma).

    I think Robert makes a good case for remembering our own sins, as in Alma’s case. But Stewart mentions “blotted out from our permanent record.” See Acts 3: 19; Alma 7: 13; D&C 109: 34.

    Sorry, this is very hastilly written.

  17. Jim F. said

    Isn’t there a difference between a sin that remains a sin and a sin that has been repented of? To remember the former is to remember the person who committed the sin as a sinner, after all, what we remember are the acts of persons, not just some generic thing called “a sin.” To remember a sin that has been repented of is not to remember the person as a sinner. So to remember the person as repentant is to forget the person as sinner.

  18. brianj said

    Thanks all for the responses regarding forgetting one’s own sins. Are there scriptures that talk about this? I found one, in Alma 5:

    Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?

    I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?

    What Alma describes sounds truly terrifying, even to the faithful—perhaps even more so to the faithful.

  19. Robert C. said

    If you haven’t read Jim F.’s “Remembrance” address, like I hadn’t, you’re missing out. (A link was posted at T&S on Kaimi’s related post.) This really helped me understand Jim’s comments on this thread better, about what it means to actively remember something, as we covenant to do with the sacrament.

  20. cherylem said

    Robert, thanks for this link. Jim, thanks for being part of all our lives.

    Cheryl

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