I was standing in line for Confession, and out of the blue, someone turned to me and asked me, “Does God forget our sins?” I tried to reply, “Well, forgetting isn’t a term that applies to God because God exists outside of time. But He absolutely forgives us.” She had a bit of a puzzled look on her face but was clearly intrigued for me to continue. But before I could explain any further, it was her turn to go. Ugh, I had so much more I wanted to say… If only I had five more minutes!! Did I blow it? Did I trouble her?

She left the confessional with a smile, so I’m hoping that my lack of ability to answer the question in fifteen seconds didn’t trouble her. I prayed for her that God would help her understand and find comfort in His mercy. So, as a sort of act of reparation, or perhaps just to soothe my own ego and make myself feel better about this missed opportunity (there I was, a supposed “evangelization expert,” and I totally whiffed this opportunity!), I want to try to briefly explain God’s “amnesia” with our sins.

I wanted to tell her that God “forgetting” our sins is a very anthropomorphic way of helping us understand that God really and truly forgives us, and we are no longer culpable in God’s “eyes” for our sins. The reality is that our human language is sorely inadequate for the mystery of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Thus, we tend to use phrases like “God forgets our sins” to help us understand, or at least, accept this mystery.

In reality, the terms “forget” or “remember” are categorically incorrect for God. They don’t apply to God, because God, in His divine nature, is eternal, outside of time. What we experience as past and present and future are an eternal now to God. Even the term “now” is inadequate to describe God’s eternity, because “now” is a term that’s connected to temporality. So, God can’t forget; or better, “forget” doesn’t apply to Him. 


Want to know how to make a good confession? Here are some resources for your examination of conscience.


So, then what is happening when God forgives us? When God forgives us, He is restoring a lost reality and giving us renewed existence. He’s healing our woundedness and drawing us closer to Himself. When we sin, we are rejecting God, either in whole or in part. God is love, and God is existence, and the source of all existence. Sin, then, is actually a step toward non-existence. Sin is, in reality, nothingness

What do we mean by this? Sin is a choice of evil. Evil is simply a lack of a good that ought to be there; and “good” and “existence” are exchangeable, meaning, something is “good” when it exists as it ought to exist. Thus, sin is a movement toward “lack of good,” a movement toward non-existence, toward nothingness. This is hard to understand, for it is a mystery of darkness. But when we understand that something is good when it exists as it ought, it is a little easier to understand that when something (or someone) acts as it shouldn’t, it ceases to exist as it ought to. It moves, in a mysterious way, toward non-existence. Thus, sin is not only a rejection of God’s love, but it is in some way a rejection of oneself and violence toward oneself.

In contrast, when God forgives us, He actually creates. When we think of forgiving, and forgetting, we tend to think of annihilating something or destroying something—a memory and a connection to some past action. But in reality, God does just the opposite. God’s forgiveness is the re-creation of goodness, the creation of a new goodness, a new type of existence that participates in His supernatural life. Jesus is the God who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). God doesn’t forget. He can’t forget—“forget” doesn’t apply to eternity. When God forgives, He creates—He creates new relationships for us with Himself, with others, and even with ourselves. He loves us into a new existence, a supernatural one. 

So, when we hear the words of absolution in Confession, we’re not hearing God’s act of divine amnesia. We are hearing an act of supernatural creation. We hear it with—because He says it with—the very same Word and the very same power with which He created and holds the universe in existence. Perhaps with even more power, because He speaks us not just into natural existence (like the rest of the universe), but into the supernatural existence that allows us to participate in His very life. Just as at the creation of all things God looked into the abyss and created out of nothingness, just as Jesus brought new life out of the abyss of the grave, God recreates us from the abyss of our sin and nothingness and reestablishes us in His life and goodness.


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