Thursday, April 06, 2006

I Will Remember Your Sins No More

Here is more evidence that God is greater than our hearts (see post of April 1). Through Jeremiah the Lord announced a new covenant, one which would ultimately be fulfilled in the redeeming sacrifice of Christ. This prophecy is important enough to be quoted twice in the Letter to the Hebrews. Perhaps the most consoling line is this: “I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12 and 10:17).

There is a mystery of divine mercy here, for it is no small thing for God to “remember our sins no more.” As the God of truth, He cannot deny or minimize the repulsive reality of evil, yet being greater still, He can forgive. This mystery can perhaps be expressed in one of the prayers of the Byzantine Great Compline: “The magnificence of Your glory, Your terrible loathing of evil, and the riches of Your compassion are beyond our power to comprehend.” It’s not a matter of simple human justice, or of kindly writing off a debt, but all of these things—the blinding, transcendent glory, the unimaginable horror of sin, and the infinite outpouring of mercy—are way beyond all our categories of understanding. Many people tend to view God either as a nit-picker over peccadilloes or as a nice guy who lets us off the hook when we goof up. He is neither. He is the All-just, All-merciful God of truth and love, who judges our sin—and who, when we repent, remembers it no more.

All of us, some more than others, can look back upon a long history of sins and failures. This can be very discouraging, and we may still be wounded or damaged because of them. We may fear that our secret shame is going to be graphically displayed to the whole world on the wide screens of the divine tribunal when all must render an account. But the only things that will be thus displayed will be those for which we did not repent and receive forgiveness, for the Lord remembers our sins no more. So our discouragement ought to be replaced by hope.

A few centuries ago, one of the saints (I forget which; it might have been St Margaret Mary Alacoque) had received visions of the Lord, which she related to her spiritual director. Wishing to discern if these were authentic, he put her to a little test. He wanted her to ask the Lord a question only He could answer; then he would know that it was really the Lord who was appearing to her. So he said to her: “I just went to confession. Ask the Lord what sins I confessed.” There’s no way to fake a reply to that one. Hesitant but obedient, she asked Christ the question when He next came to her. His reply: “I forgot!” This, even more than the actual recounting of the spiritual director’s sins, convinced him. Only God could answer in that way, for it manifested a deep theological truth about divine love and mercy.

So let us not minimize sin, or we will necessarily minimize mercy. Let the one retain its full horror and the other its full glory and consolation. Let us run to the Lord like the prodigal, confessing our sins and being restored as children of God. When we are in that divine embrace, He remembers our sins no more.