Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.
Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.
As I get older, I am beginning to realize that my memory isn’t as trustworthy as it used to be! But who knows, maybe it was never that great to begin with. Oh, well…I can’t remember!
Memory is a complicated thing. Psychologists identify at least three specific types of memory that function independently but are intimately interconnected with each other. We know that memory collects and stores our experiences, information and emotions; and that good memory function allows us to recall those things as well, sometimes without even trying. Interestingly, when people of a certain age begin to struggle with memory loss, it’s often the oldest and deepest memories that endure longest. Go ask your grandma.
Just to complicate things further, the factual parts of our memories can be enhanced or distorted by our present state of emotion. When we think of a loved one we have lost, for example, the details of our memories are recalled through the filter of our heart—for better or for worse. The best things about them can overshadow all their shortcomings or, they can be overshadowed by them.
Psalm 25 is a complicated song in many ways—it is an acrostic poem (each verse begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet), it alternates freely between prayers to God and meditations about God, etc. But the theme of the song is a very simple one, imploring God to use selective memory. David asks God to remember the way God has been in the past, but to forget all about David’s past shortcomings. What’s more, he prays that when God does remember him, it will be “in the light of Your unfailing love.”
Scholars believe this song may have been written when David was old. Looking back on his life, it was easy for David to remember all of the ways he had sinned, resulting in his own suffering as well as the suffering of others. In that respect Psalm 25 is a song of lament. Of course, David had done some pretty amazing, God-honoring stuff as well. So much so that God calls David, “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). But in this psalm David’s not just asking God to weigh David’s “good stuff” against his “bad stuff.” He is praying that when God looks at him it will be through the eyes of God’s love, compassion, and mercy.
He is praying that God will look at David and see…Himself!
Remarkably, this same God who sees all and knows all, actually chooses to look at His children with this kind of selective memory. God promises that he will not only forgive our sins but he will also forget our sins (Hebrews 8:12). He promises that when he looks at us it will be with eyes of love, not judgment. But this is only possible because Jesus, God’s Son, made it possible.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
As the song puts it, “Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done; Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are.” (Who Am I, by Casting Crowns)
This is good news for all of us—regardless of whether we are “big sinners” or “casual sinners.” Whether we are “past sinners” or “current sinners.” Every sin is big enough to separate us from God, and yet no sin is too big for God to forgive and forget. Jesus came so that you could be forgiven and free. He came so that you could have real life now and eternal life to come. He offers that to anyone who will trust him and welcome him in. Come and drink deep of his living water of life. Stay thirsty for him!
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