My 91 year old father-in-law suffers from dementia. Beneath his confusion, he’s still the kind, selfless soul he’s always been, a man whose polite manners and devotion to God are still evident even in his befuddled state. He’s unable to grasp that he lives in a care home. Most of the time, he thinks he’s on a ship, in a church, or waiting at a bus station. People walking past are characters in a TV show. But ask him about specific battles of WW2, or which heads of state were meeting to discuss a peace treaty, or what king ruled Great Britain in the 800s, and he can tell you real history in surprisingly accurate detail. I know–I have to Google most topics on my phone as he talks just to keep up–and he’s right.
His ability to remember history, whether it be World, American, or his own, is stronger the farther back we go. Present events are beyond his ability to grasp. Perhaps, as a form of blessing, his mind retains what it wants to remember and blocks out what it doesn’t.
I don’t know how dementia works. And I don’t know why we remember some things and forget others. In my case, this is usually to my dismay. I find it distressing that I can remember hurtful words, but can’t remember all the cute things my children said as toddlers. I’d prefer it the other way around.
We remember the bad so well (or maybe I’m the only one?). I suppose the biblical notion of forgiving AND forgetting is too foreign to our human nature. We are so good at remembering the mistakes of others—especially if those mistakes affected us.
But the Bible says that when God forgives, he also forgets.
Do you find that notion hard to grasp? As in, God, I’m really grateful that you’ve forgiven me, but you aren’t really going to forget about that, are you? You’re God, you know everything. How can you forget what I did? What she did? What he did?
In my upcoming novel, The Memoir of Johnny Devine, John wishes the infamy of his Hollywood years could disappear. Even more, he wishes people could forget his past and see him in a new light, the light of God’s redeeming grace. But getting people to completely forget each other’s mistakes isn’t easy. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible.
If only those nifty memory neutralizers Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith used in Men In Black were available. (!)
If you’ve ever made a mistake, or worse, made a full-blown career of sin, and later repented to God, who forgives and forgets, how do you face people who will never forget? God can throw our sin into the sea of forgetfulness, so why can’t people?
We can’t. Period. Past mistakes linger like a permanent stain in our minds. John (and we) can’t do anything about those stains. But perhaps there is use for them. Perhaps the memory we can’t erase can serve a beautiful purpose.
Perhaps the light of Grace shines all the brighter when held against darkness.
Perhaps hope is far sweeter when offered to the truly hopeless.
Perhaps God’s likeness growing more evident in a once-ugly life is the most stunning beauty of all to behold.
Perhaps…if we can’t erase the stain, we can use it to stir compassion in our hearts for others and pray they find the same hope of forgiveness AND forgetfulness we have found.