God Forgets

I’m not sure what it is about the month of October this year. It’s almost as if something otherworldly has been perching in the branches of the trees—something dark—and as the leaves have begun falling away, the menacing creature has been exposed and is now swooping down to stir the hearts of God’s people to sadness.

I speak these words with great seriousness.

Within the past week or so, no small number of people—not only members of my own congregation, but others beyond our borders—have sought me out in order to confess haunting sins of the past. These deep-reaching glooms seem to have a permanent grip on their hearts and minds, and perhaps worse, are feasting on their joyful hope.

It’s no surprise. Guilt is a demonic beastie. He’s sturdy. He’s ferocious. He’s versatile. He’s enduring. He’s stealthy. Perhaps worst of all, he remembers everything. He observes the events of our past and present—everything that creates our history—and he records it in his ledger. The ledger has dates, times, images—everything needful for our indictment.

Of course, he doesn’t perform his work alone. Regret labors beside him. He’s equal to Guilt’s skill. Together, they scheme. They step in tandem. They slink into our circles of existence, and knowing the opportune moments, they strike. One and then the other. They grab hold, and as one shoves the ledger’s ugly and accusing contents in our faces, the other injects a stinging venom of hopelessness—the shameful memories, the disgraceful offenses, the reprehensible wounds on the soul so easily re-torn and bloodied.

In the scuffle with these fiends, it would seem the scene’s fittest description belongs to James Joyce, who said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Guilt and Regret are no small things. They’re real and they’re ruthless.

Still, I’m glad people have approached me—a Christian pastor—for help with these things. Not that I’m above the assaults of Guilt and Regret, or that I’m somehow immune to the venomous doses they’d try to administer. Believe me. I’m not. I know my own sins and I know them well. But I do have the antidote. And I’ve been tasked with keeping it on hand for you, too. The One in whose stead I stand—Jesus Christ—has charged me with bringing to others the only thing that can neutralize the venom and outmatch the darkly creatures of Guilt and Regret.

The Gospel.

Only the Gospel can bring these things into submission. A vacation can’t outwit them. They’ll be with you all along the way. Drugs and alcohol can’t do it. When the fog of inebriation lifts, they’ll be there to serve you another drink or give you another hit. Mortal distractions—a movie, a song, a favorite book—as nice as they might be, still, they can’t outrun them. When the credits are rolling, the last song fades, and the hardcover closes, they’ll be ready to resume their feasting.

Only the Gospel can meet these monsters.

Only the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself all of our sins of past, present, and future can meet these monsters each and every day right where they are and exceed their command. Only the powerful message of Christ crucified in our place—the message of His deed of immeasurable mercy—can clad the Christian heart and mind with the steely knowledge that Jesus has shackled Guilt and Regret to an inevitable end in darkness far from the glories of heaven. This same Gospel clears the penitent sinner’s cloudy sky, urging him or her to recall that even as Guilt and Regret remember everything, the only One who has the authority to grant entrance into heaven forgets.

“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

God forgets the sins of those who’ve been forgiven. And even as we so often try to present before Him our atrocious histories, He is far too preoccupied with the white robe of righteous we are wearing by repentant faith. He is far too mindful of you being His absolved child, and with that, the case on your sins has been closed. There is nothing left to discuss in the matter. Not that He won’t discuss it with you, of course. You belong with Him, and He loves you. When you’re hurting, He wants to help you. But as far as your sins are concerned, He’ll tell you the same thing I’m telling you—which is that no matter what you’ve done, the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ has sealed the deal on eternity for all who believe in Him. No one can accuse you with any legitimacy—not in heaven, in hell, or in between. This means that at this very moment—and in every moment—you can live in the joyful freedom that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

If you’re going to remember anything, let it be that.

Auschwitz. Cambodia. New York.

The extent of our lives, while filled with countless moments of ease, is also filled with moments of discomfort. We’ve all experienced such moments.

Some occur because of something we’ve said or left unsaid, done or left undone. Other such moments have been thrust upon us by the arrangements of others. But no matter the wellspring, when the whitewater has settled, we often come to the same realization of regret.

We wish we’d have done something differently to change the situation.

There is a moment in William Hazlitt’s “Sketches and Essays” when he writes so penetratingly, “We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it.” His words need little interpretation, especially when coupled to another gathering of words he offers only a few short paragraphs later: “Reason may play the critic, and correct certain errors afterward; but if we were to wait for its formal and absolute decisions in the shifting and multifarious combinations of human affairs, the world would stand still… They stay for facts till it is too late to pronounce on the characters.”

On January 22, 2019—the anniversary of Roe V. Wade—the State of New York passed a law allowing abortion until the moment of birth. In response to this, New York City celebrated the new law by illuminating the World Trade Center’s tower in pink. Thousands of photos of Governor Cuomo’s delight while signing the bill have already been captured, perhaps matched only by the images of Hillary Clinton’s equal exuberance and the videos of the legislature offering a standing ovation at the bill’s passage. Lawmakers throughout the land have been emboldened. They’ve stepped up in support, which means other states will soon follow New York’s lead.

We’ve known this day was coming. NARAL has been openly lobbying for this for decades. The National Abortion Federation has, too. Planned Parenthood, the best known of the bunch, has been an advocate for such devilry, although it would seem they have betrayed a knowledge of the more sinister nature of such things because, for the most part, this arm of their efforts has been off the public grid.

Still, we’ve known this day was coming. At least the church has. How could we not? Knowing the truth regarding the unchecked human condition, as soon as the Roe v. Wade verdict was cast in 1973, we should have anticipated this day. The fellowship of humanity has more than proven that the pit from which it mines its wickedness has no bottom. One needs only to look at the last century. Auschwitz. The population transfers in the Soviet Union. Cambodia. Choose your genocidal atrocity.

Now we can add the State of New York to the list. It is now legal to kill a baby before the moment of its full-term birth. Very soon we’ll be adding other states.

But again, we’ve known this day was coming, and so Hazlitt’s words are piercing. They are piercing because so many continue to cogitate. We think on these things, but do not act. The world of our efforts to stop the atrocities stands still. We behold the resultant facts unfolding and only then do we pronounce on the characters. “New York is terrible!” “Governor Cuomo is a horrible person.” “The New York Legislature should be ashamed of itself!”

All of this, and yet we do nothing to actually stay the hand that slays. They continue to kill. We complain.

Perhaps worse, many of the Christian preachers are often the faultiest cogs in the machine. “The church needs only to pray,” they say, “God will handle this.” “Pastors, stay in your lane,” they warn. “Brothers, preach sin and grace, but do not discuss the government’s affairs.”

Nonsense. Utter nonsense. The pulpits are crowded with Christian preachers announcing that there is forgiveness available even to the abortionist (which of course is true), but there is an ever-dwindling number occupying the pulpits who are willing to urge their listeners to actually be who God has made them—to be those who exist in this ferocious world as ones armed with other-worldly courage for taking up a position between evil and its victims. This contingent of preachers, not the other, knows that the church—the body of Christ—is more than a theological think tank producing eloquent sermons, intriguing Facebook and Twitter posts, and cerebral committee meetings between the popular theologians sitting around drinking coffee while every now and then broaching the topic of how Nancy Pelosi and Governor Cuomo should be excommunicated.

The church is more than an ethereal collection of beliefs congealing into what can only be described as disembodied mush—an arguing for good theology without ever actually engaging in it. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith in Jesus Christ, the church has the muscle for action.

Behold the words of Jesus in Luke 10:25-37, the story of the Good Samaritan. Behold the man lying in his own blood beside the road—beaten, robbed, dying helplessly. And yet, as Priests and Levites with churchly things to do, we pass him by.

Do something. Act. “We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it…”

Many of the religious among us are quick to pronounce judgment on New York’s governor and legislature, and of course this is certainly appropriate. They are monsters. They’re eating children. That’s what monsters do. But do not forget the ones among our own who continue to ring the dinner bell for the monsters by their fluent excuse-making and pious complacency, the ones who sit idly by as the body parts pile. Do not forget the Lord’s words to those church leaders:

“For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me” (Hosea 4:4,6).

January 22, 2019 was a moment of incredible discomfort. It was a moment of monumental regret. Could we have done something to change it? Yes. Unfortunately, in order to close this ever-widening gateway of legalized slaughter, it may take action requiring the same verve of the men and women throughout the generations who’ve heard the call to combat evil—slavery, genocide, and the like—and have responded with a willingness to put their lives on the line. I hope it hasn’t arrived at this.

Either way, I’m not going to sit around “hoping” that abortion will end. I’m going to pray and act. I’m going to pray that you will pray and act. I’m going to continue to engage in this way. I’m going to do this because I know that whatever is to be next, it’ll never happen until we come to the realization that we actually need to stop talking about it and act.