“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12 (RSV)
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:16-18 (NIV)
1974. Road trip. Arizona. I couldn’t wait to see the Grand Canyon! I’d toured the Kettle Moraine in my home state of Wisconsin, but I knew those rock-deposit crevices would be nothing compared to …THE GRAND CANYON! My impatience grew as we drove next to a deep drop-off to a river below. Suddenly, it hit me… we’d been driving alongside the Grand Canyon for over an hour! There was so much more to it than I’d ever imagined! Fast forward. 2019. Plane trip. Israel. I couldn’t wait to walk…WHERE JESUS WALKED! Hearing our guide’s Hebrew words and explanations gave me a thirst for the culture in which Jesus interacted during His earthly ministry. There was so much more than I’d imagined; ironically, it was because there was so much…less.
Biblical Hebrew has far fewer words than English. Old Testament Hebrew uses only about 5,000 different words, but those words are packed with meaning. Fewer words means each word can have multiple meanings. I became acutely aware of the limitations of a huge English vocabulary – what an oxymoron! Translating some Hebrew words with just one English word often doesn’t paint the complete picture; there is more… much more… Grand Canyon more! Isn’t that just like our majestic God? Romans 11:33a tells us, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” Deeper than any canyon, yet searchable; “Aha!” moments with God, when a word’s meaning suddenly expands….a word like remember. There was the conundrum. If God ‘remembers no more,’ does that mean He forgets? Does He become absent-minded? While that thought brought some vindication for the last time I couldn’t remember where I put my keys, I had a hard time reconciling it to His omniscience. Could our all-knowing God forget – no longer know – something? If so, could He forget me?
Enter the Hebrew word ‘zakhar’ which is translated ‘remember’ in English, as in Hebrews 8:12: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Yet zakhar holds a Grand Canyon of meaning. Our Western minds link remembering to thought activity, as in thinking about a past event. Jewish understanding expands that to include actions attached to those thoughts; remembering someone in prayer doesn’t just mean thinking about them, but actually praying for them. In the Western sense of ‘no recollection,’ forgotten sins run the risk of returning to memory, leaving them open to punishment. But ‘remembering no more’ in the Jewish context means coupling memories with actions, and God’s action is forgiveness. God’s ‘remembering sins no more’ doesn’t mean He can’t recall them, but that, knowing them all, He consciously decides to forgive! How great is that love? Immeasurable love. Perfect love. Decisive love. It’s God’s mercy for believers regarding the sins He sees and recalls, but that He actively DECIDES to forgive. It’s active recollection that brings complete freedom. It’s peace in trusting that He remembers, yet chooses mercy. It’s Grand Canyon love!
Lord, thank You that Your love for us is immeasurable, that Your ways are not our ways, and that deep, canyon trips with You are eye-opening adventures that last forever. Help me to be rooted and established in Your love, Your Word, and to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is Your love for us.