God knows everything: endlessly, exhaustively, gloriously. He is the First and the Last (Isaiah 44:6). God knows the number of hairs on every person’s head and every time a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29-30). Nothing is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13). God is the One who searches the minds and hearts of all men (Jeremiah 17:10). Everything and everyone are terrifyingly exposed before His gaze. Secrets don’t exist when considered from God’s perspective. He knows our words before they are on our tongue (Psalm 139:1-4). His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:4). There has never been anything and nor will there be anything that God doesn’t possess complete knowledge of. His knowing never increases or decreases. To whom could we even begin to liken Him (Isaiah 40:25-26)?
In stark contrast, I am forty years old and I often walk into a room and forget why I am there. I lose track of where I placed things. I will go to do a task and realize that I already did it and it just slipped my mind. Every day I learn a myriad of things and have to process new pieces of information from the world around me. Every passing moment presents a veritable ocean of uncharted territory because my knowledge is so severely finite. And yet at the same time that my understanding is expanding, memories of dates, names, events, and even the precious things my kids have said or done are all slowly eroding. Such is the plight of all normal human beings living in a broken body in this present evil age. Thus, when I brush up against the truths above and the staggering reality of God’s omniscience, I scarcely know what to do because He is so different than us. And then we are confronted with verses like these:
“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” - Is. 43:25 (see also Jer. 31:34, Heb. 8:12)
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old.” - Micah 7:18-20
So not only must we believe something that far exceeds our ability to fathom in God’s omniscience, we must also attempt to understand how God can say that He does something that is actually impossible for Him to do. This is the mystery that we are invited to explore and rejoice in through the words of this hymn. How can the mercy of God revealed in and through Christ be so vast that it forces the language of divine impossibility?
First, these verses do not mean that God literally forces amnesia upon Himself. There are simply too many statements to the contrary in Scripture. With this conclusion the history of the interpretation of the Church firmly agrees. So, what isGod saying through these passages? Quite simply, He is promising that He will not relate to us based on our history of sins that have been forgiven through the cleansing flood of His mercy. It will be as though those things were cast into the depths of the sea and gone forever. They will be not be brought up to the surface or revisited by the Lordin His dealings with us.
Once again, He is so different than us! As frail as our minds are, one category of memories that remain remarkably sharp are the ways we have been hurt or mistreated by others. We may say, and sincerely mean that we forgive, but we are constantly relating to coworkers, friends, and family in a way that is colored by the moments of pain in our history with them. And we can be equally cruel to ourselves. We replay and rehearse our sin and failures over and over again until we are hopelessly locked in an internal prison of shame. Even though God is not relating to us in terms of the litany of past wrongs, we are approaching him with these in view and trying to make amends for something that doesn’t even exist from His perspective.
The Lord actually delights in showing mercy. He enjoys it. And He invites us to receive His new mercies and draw near with boldness before His throne of grace!
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession…Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” - Hebrews 4:14, 16
Until the resurrection of our bodies and the glories of the age to come, every day will bring some measure of wrestling with sin in this broken world. Yet we do not lose heart as we treasure the truth that His mercy will always be more. Like Paul, we can forget what is behind and press on toward the goal of the prize upward call of God in Christ Jesus!