Does God Have Alzheimer’s?
MY FRIEND HAS been carefully monitoring her grandmother for some time.
There have been signals. Telltale signs. Inexplicable actions.
Lately they have been much more pronounced and observable. This is not simply “old age”; this is symptomatic of something far worse. Her grandmother doesn’t just forget something, she simply can’t remember. She can’t recall people or how to do the simplest of tasks. Faces have no context. Loved ones are total strangers. It’s as if her mind is a sort of computer hard drive that has been irrevocably erased. The data is all gone. The external components are still intact, but there are no files to open and review.
Now my friend’s family has been forced to make a heart-wrenching decision—to put grandmother into a nursing home. Grandma will never return to her old homestead. Her home with its treasures and precious memories will be emptied and divided among her loved ones. Alzheimer’s has claimed yet another unsuspecting victim.
What would it be like to not be able to remember? What would it be like to forget? What would it be like to lose the ability to function normally because your memories are being incrementally erased from your mind? Imagine her dreadful plight. She can see, hear, and move, but she can’t remember. Names mean nothing to her. Every face is an unknown. She is an infant in an old woman’s body, at best. I shudder to think about it. I am sad for my friend and her family.
But it occurs to me that God also has a similar affliction—figuratively speaking. He can’t remember like He used to. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that “He DOESN’T recall as He used to…” No, that’s not a misprint; The “Ancient of Days” doesn’t recall things as He once did. You might say it’s a divine form of Alzheimer’s. Don’t believe me? Read the following passage and pay special attention to verse 34:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their [b]hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
You may be thinking, “But Mike, how can this be? God is incapable of not remembering.”
In order for us to address this apparent dilemma, let’s notice a few Scriptural points:
- God is all-knowing (1 Samuel 2:3; Psalm 139:1-6; 147:4-5; 40:5; Matthew 10:29-30; Romans 1:19-20.)
- For God to not know or remember something would mean that He is not omniscient.
- God remembers sin in the sense that He knows everything, past, present, and future.
- Under the Law of Moses, sins were remembered each year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16; 23:26-32)—
“But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year” (Hebrews 10.3). This annual remembrance was necessary in order that God’s people a) would be made conscious (Hebrews 10.2) of the enormity of their transgressions as well as b) what was required in order to atone for them. Sin is a type of debt (Romans 6.23.)
So when the high priest offered the blood of innocent animals on behalf of the nation, the people were forced to see and remember the consequences—both physically and spiritually—of what they had done.
Think of it this way. Think of paying off your car loan. Each month the bank remembers that you have a car payment—and every month it mails you a reminder. You pay on the debt for several months in a row until eventually you pay off the car and the entire debt is—to borrow from Jeremiah—“remembered no more.” Now once the loan is paid off, does the bank forget that you bought the car, or that you had a bill to pay? We would agree and say, “Of course not.” The bank still keeps a record of your debt, but it acknowledges that the debt has been cancelled and, therefore, no longer held against your account.
Well, God has a record of our sin—because He can’t forget anything, but now under the new and better covenant (Hebrews 8;6ff), there is no need for perennial, repetitive sacrifices (i.e., bank reminders.) By virtue of the “once and for all” (Hebrews 10:5-18) payment/sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9.13-15), God no longer remembers our sins (Isaiah 43.25) or charges them against our account. He treats us as if we had never sinned; He, in essence, forgets (Jeremiah 31:34b; cf. Micah 7:18-20.)