August 20, 2020

Divine Amnesia

Did you know that God practices a voluntary form of amnesia? It’s true. The only One who knows everything about everything chooses to block certain memories from His mind. “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,” God graciously says, “and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12, ESV).

Psychologists have noted that it’s easier for people to remember negative social interactions than positive ones. According to Roy Baumeister’s social psychology research in the Review of General Psychology, “Being abandoned by friends and receiving criticism will have a greater impact [on emotion and memory] than making friends or receiving praise.”

This doesn’t just happen to pessimists. When Baumeister surveyed both children and adults about childhood memories, his team discovered “a preponderance of unpleasant memories, even among people who rated their childhoods as having been relatively pleasant and happy.”

This negative bias can easily damage our relationships. We’re more likely to remember the annoyances and hurts we experience from others than the positive interactions we have with them. Relationship expert John Gottman estimates that marriage partners need at least five positive interactions or feelings for every one negative interaction or feeling in order for the relationship to feel stable. This is likely influenced by the fact that negative interactions stick to memory the same way gum sticks to the bottom of a shoe.

As broken people living in a broken world, there’s no way we won’t sometimes hurt one another. But God wants our relationships to be as strong as possible. That’s why He encourages us to be forgetful. The apostle Paul wrote, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” What a beautiful promise this must have been to a man who had caused so much suffering.

God didn’t forget Paul’s sins the way that we forget things. But He chose to relate to Paul based on the loving memories of Christ’s life rather than the terrible memories of Paul’s sins. Apparently, God isn’t affected by the same negative memory bias that we are. In fact, the opposite seems to be true.

God has exercised divine amnesia toward each one of us. He wants our relationships to flourish, so He invites us to do the same. Instead of keeping a record of wrongs, we can do the opposite: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV).

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Light Bearers blog.