Forgetfulness usually gets you in trouble. If you forget to do your chores or homework, things usually won't end well. Don't forget your girlfriend's birthday or Valentine's Day! Did you forget to get your dad a card for Father's Day?
Give it enough time and you'll forget the things that you wish you could remember. If Facebook didn't remind you, the fun times you had with friends would disappear into the internet. If it weren't for pictures, you'd slowly lose the faces of loved ones and friends you don't see anymore. You want to remember the love that's been shown to you, but you can't seem to hold onto those memories tightly. For some reason, when you need some good memories, they aren't easy to remember.
So why doesn't it work that way with the things you want to erase from your brain? You remember every detail of the things that you wish you could forget. Sure, you try to hide them. On the outside you do a pretty good job, but eventually they flare up in your mind. You can't "unsee" the images on the computer screen. You can't "unthink" the gossip and betrayal. You can't undo the hook-ups. You can't forget the beating and abuse. You can't rewind the failures.
As you eat your Cheerios, you forget the things you want to remember and remember the things you want to forget. The words of the Accuser always seem to win, but there is another Word. It comes from outside of your mind. It's spoken to you. It goes against your experience.
I was a student in Dr. Rod Rosenbladt's doctrine class at Concordia, Irvine when I heard this story.
"Pastor," the young woman's eyes were bloodshot from crying all night, "Can I talk to you?"
He had just poured his first cup of coffee for the morning, "Of course Jessica, come in. What's up?" She had grown up in the congregation, and the pastor had known her family for years.
"I can't sleep," she said, "I want to talk to Mike, but I can't. He would be so mad. We've been dating for two years, and things were going pretty good. I don't think he would be able to forgive me. I already feel like everyone looks at me different. I can't imagine what it would feel like if everyone knew." Her eyes started to well up, "I'm not even sure I can talk with you pastor. I messed up. I don't think I can go to church anymore. I can't face the people, let alone God."
"What is it Jessica?"
"I had an abortion. Pastor, I should go. I don't want to burden you."
"No. No. It's no burden."
"How can God forgive me? I didn't tell anyone I was going to do it. Mike always talks about how he wants to have kids someday. I just wasn't ready, but after everything..." she was sobbing now, "I wish I would have kept it. I can't get the doctor's face out of my mind. I have dreams about going to the clinic over and over again."
"I'm so sorry." He paused and the room was silent for a moment, "This may sound strange, but you were in church last Sunday, right?"
"Do you remember confessing your sins with the congregation?"
"Yeah, but that doesn't make the memories go away. Sometimes it makes them worse."
"That's one of the reasons we confess our sins and hear the absolution every Sunday. Our memories work against us. We can do it today if you want."
"Really, we can do that?"
"Okay." They opened the service book together and read through the private confession and absolution. Through tears she confessed her sin.
"...God be merciful to you and strengthen your faith."
"Amen," she whispered.
"Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?"
Again, in a low and shaky voice, "Yes."
"Let it be done for you as you believe," with his hands on her head he gently spoke, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
After a few moments of silence, she looked up with a grimace, "Thanks pastor. Could you do me a favor though?"
"Don't tell Mike about the abortion."
"What abortion, Jessica?" There was a soft grin on her face. They hugged and she let out a deep sigh in relief. As she left the church office the pastor slowly took his first sip of coffee.
The other Word is a promise. It's the promise of the new creation. When you can't forget your sin, because it plagues your conscience, your pastor reminds you that when God sees you He doesn't see you as you feel: condemned. That condemnation has already fallen on Christ. Instead, He sees you covered in the righteousness of His perfect Son, righteousness that has been won for you on the cross and delivered to you in the words of absolution. This is God's promise: "I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12), and this promise is for you. This word defeats the demons in your mind.
This is the blessed forgetfulness. Rest assured, no Christian will have his sins counted against him. Your sin will to cling to you, but you are blessed with this forgetfulness: You are new and your sin will not be counted against you. It doesn't feel like it, but it's true. God will not remember it. Don't despair. Jesus has done it all for you.
Chris Vecera is the Director of Youth Ministry at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Aliso Viejo, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created: August 8th, 2015