Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The God who loves to forget

Who is a God like you, who pardons the sins and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry for ever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. Micah 7:18-19

Did you hear the sad story of the mother pleading with the police to wipe out a “sexting incident” from the permanent record of her 14-year old son?

I don’t know either the details of his offence (nor do I want to) or whether his mother was successful with her challenge. But that’s not the point. 

It’s a reminder of the danger of social media. How tragically easy it is, in a moment of stupidity, drunkenness, bravado, or whatever, to do something you can never, ever get rid of. For the rest of your life you know that somebody somewhere could turn up that text and cause you intense embarrassment or worse. And if you’re just a teenage boy... well, that’s a lot to live with.

Of course it doesn’t only apply to stuff we put on the internet. Speaking personally, I’m well aware that there are people around who could embarrass me by dredging up out of their memories things I did or said which I’m now thoroughly ashamed of.

I think too of letters I might have written (yes, letters with a handwritten address on the envelope and a postage stamp in the top corner! - remember them?) in disappointment, frustration or just plain anger. How I hope they have long since been destroyed.

What a joy it must be, then, to know that all our follies, mistakes and sins have been utterly and completely forgotten, never again to have any kind of hold over us.

Well, that is a joy which can be known by anyone who comes humbly to God. The prophet Micah says that God “will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).

I love those dramatic images, don’t you? I picture God himself in big hobnail boots stomping away energetically until every last shred of my sins is ground to dust. I picture him on a boat in the middle of the deepest ocean with a bowl full of my stupidities and flinging them over the water until they are sunk and gone for ever.

When Micah first spoke these beautiful words he was addressing not individual men and women but the small remaining group of God’s people Israel - the “remnant of his inheritance”. It was about 700 years before Jesus, and at a time when God’s people had sunk into a state which one writer describes as “moral rot”.

But there is no reason why words originally addressed to a group of people shouldn’t also apply to us as individuals. For what Micah is wanting to do is to tell us just what kind of God God is

In verse 18 he asks the question “Who is a God like you...?” (which, as it happens, is pretty much what his name “Micah” means). And he answers his own question with these words: a God “who pardons sins and forgives... transgression...” He is a God “who does not stay angry for ever” but “delights to show mercy.”

Is that how you think of God? Or do you think of him as harsh and taking pleasure in punishing sinners? 

True, God is a holy God and must therefore judge sin. But his deepest desire is to forgive and restore those who know their sin. Why else did he, seven hundred years later, send his Son Jesus? Remember what John says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). If that isn’t “gospel” - good news - then I don’t know what is.

I certainly feel for that teenage boy and for his mother. I feel too for all those people, even those who may have committed gross offences, for whom past deeds are like a heavy millstone round their necks - even though perhaps they have paid the penalty for their crimes. I feel for every person who is troubled by conscience (and that, I suspect, includes you and me).

But whoever we are, there is good news. Amazingly, where this corrupt and fallen world, sadly, chooses to remember, almighty God, in his mercy, loves to forget.

Is this a message you need to digest? I invite you to take a cue from the prophet Micah and to picture God himself treading your sins underfoot and hurling your iniquities into the depths of the sea.

I invite you to reflect on Paul’s simple statement: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). 

And you know what? - “no condemnation” really does mean... no condemnation.

Lord God, help me to truly understand that though I am indeed a sinner, I am a forgiven sinner, and to rejoice in the fact that, as far as you are concerned, all my many sins are gone for ever. Amen.

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