The human memory is a slippery thing: unreliable, sputtery, and always susceptible to self-promoting biases. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, our remembrances are spotty and flawed, even on their best days. Some people, events, and dates are seared into our brains with a hot iron, while others are forgotten as soon as they occur. As fallible creatures, we take great consolation, then, that "I can't remember" is a phrase God never utters. His omniscience ensures that no detail is too small to escape his watchful gaze.
Yet in another real sense, we might say that our salvation is predicated on God's forgetfulness, or more accurately, on what he chooses not to remember: our sins. This theme permeates all of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, and Noah is a prime example. When God remembers his covenant with Noah and causes the flood to subside, he also chooses to forget. He exercises a form of divine spiritual amnesia. Scripture tells us that Noah was a righteous man in the sense that he trusted God's promise and conducted himself differently. But Noah wasn't flawless. Like us, he was a sinner saved by grace, loved by God apart from his own failures and shortcomings (see Gen. 9:20-25 for one such example). It wasn't Noah's best efforts that elicited God's love, but God's gracious, fatherly heart toward Noah.
We are quick to point out how "the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that "every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5) pre-flood, but we're less apt to highlight the fact that the same verdict applies post-flood: "the intention of man's heart [Noah's included] is evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21). That little detail throws a monkey wrench into our upward-trending sanctification graphs, so we tend to gloss over it. But sin must be reckoned with, which is why God's remembering of Noah is so important.
Our minds are like steel traps regarding our sins (both those we've committed and suffered). We remember our failures and past mistakes and still flagellate ourselves for them. We remember the sufferings we've experienced at the hands of others, and we relive them. We recall in painful detail the estranged daughter-in-law and the words we can't take back. We remember the friendships that went south, the fear-masked-as-anger that led to the breakup of our marriage, the alcohol-fueled outbursts, the hidden addictions, the self-preservation instincts that caused us to neglect our neighbor in his time of need. We remember the abuse we suffered, the unforeseen tragedy that upended our lives, and the miscarriage we still grieve. Life in a fallen world means we are forever victims and perpetrators. There is no shortage of skeletons in our closet, ghosts that come back to haunt us, and demons that ceaselessly hound us, reminding us again and again of our sin and tempting us to believe the ultimate lie: "God could never love someone like you. He could never forgive so great a sin. You are worthless and may as well throw in the towel."
God remembers something we can't. He remembers his covenant, and he brings about our salvation.
But in those moments when the only thing we can remember is our sin, God remembers something else—and he acts to remedy our situation. 1 John 3:20: "For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything." God remembers something we can't. He remembers his covenant, and he brings about our salvation. As Genesis 8:1 says, "But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided."
Unlike the absent-minded husband whose "remembrance" of his anniversary resulted in no loving action toward his wife, the God of Noah acts on his beloved's behalf by shielding him from the waters. He refuses to let the destruction of sin come anywhere near his child, keeping him safe in the ark. But God goes one step further, placing a tangible reminder of his promise in the sky through a rainbow. "I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh" (Gen. 9:15).
There's more packed in here than at first meets the eye. In Hebrew, the word for "bow" also refers to the weapon. It's a sign of spiritual warfare. God's covenant of solidarity with human beings is a declaration of war against sin. But instead of treating us as our sins deserve, God aims the bow at his son, and he lets the arrow fly. As Isaiah says, he was "pierced for our transgression" (Isa. 53:5). At the Cross, Jesus absorbed the arrows meant for us. He suffered the punishment we deserved, dying in our place and covering us with his blood to bring about our salvation. Through the "ark" of baptism, he delivers faith and welcomes us into his family (1 Pet 3:18-21). Through the "living waters" of Jesus (John 4:10), he overpowers the destructive storm of sin threatening to flood the world around us and our own hearts. And through the "bread of life" (John 6:35), he sustains our faith.
Tossed by the waves, God sees you. He remembers you. He acts on your behalf. He loves you. And he forgives you. Whatever source of anxiety you may face today, his promise still stands. Isaiah 43:2-3a: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."