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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part VI: The Subconscious and Forgiveness of Sins

Chapter 5

Biblical Forgiveness and Divine Forgetting

     WE HAVE THUS established certain facts, emerging from recent research into the faculty of memory, which have a direct bearing upon the nature of the kind of forgiveness which God offers to sinful man through Jesus Christ. Before attempting to show the close relationship between divine forgiveness and the erasure of offensive memory, it may be helpful to summarize very briefly the points which have been made in the Introduction and the chapters which followed.
     The fundamental issue underscored in the Introduction is that there is a critical difference between human and divine forgiveness: human forgiveness can never guarantee that an offensive act will not again be recalled at some future time and made the basis of a fresh break in fellowship between the offender and the offended. It is quite impossible for human beings to so expunge from memory the hurt felt by another man's personal affront that it can never again come to mind and cause a breach in relationship. Not only is this true in man-to-man relationships, it is also true within man as an individual. Every one of us carries to his grave indelibly fixed in the memory the recollection of some offenses for which we can never quite forgive ourselves, even when others have forgiven us. The basic problem here is not how we can improve the power of recall, but how we can expunge from memory what we wish to forget. Every technique that man has ever tried in order to assist the process of forgetting has only tended to aggravate the burden of memory.
     In the first chapter, evidence was explored which tends to show that locked away somewhere in the mind of every individual is a total record of his whole conscious life, and that the records in this "filing cabinet," are accessible. It is true that Penfield's technique has only been applied to those areas of the cortex which recover past sensory experience: visual impressions, things heard, even things detected by odour. This limitation was to be expected because the cortical areas stimulated

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were only relevant to these impressions. But it is highly probable that all memories stored in the subconscious -- memories of all kinds of experience including those inward responses, loves and hates, hopes and fears, kind thoughts and wicked ones -- these, too, may still be recoverable. Moreover, this kind of recall, as has been demonstrated by Penfield, is not as in a dream, but with a crystal clearness that makes it more a re-living than a recollection. Yet this re-living somehow leaves the individual strangely detached and free to view the experience objectively. The point is an important one, because it means we may pass judgment on re-lived experience in a way we cannot do in either dreams or reminiscences. It means, in fact, that in the Judgment to come it is quite conceivable that a man may be called upon to pass judgment upon his own life, re-lived under some kind of divine stimulus. This is perhaps the "opening of the books" given in Revelation 20:12.
     In Chapter 2 the evidence was examined which seems to indicate, rather unexpectedly, that this "filing cabinet" is virtually indestructible. The most extraordinary attempts to destroy the record, at least in animals, have been made without success. In the light of present understanding, there does not seem to be any way in which an individual can with absolute certainty place beyond recall anything which has once been part of his conscious experience during life. To this extent he cannot escape the real possibility that he may one day be faced with the record of every idle word, and faced with it in such a way that he will find himself able to judge it objectively in a manner which would have been quite impossible at the time of the experience. Moreover, we noticed that it is not merely a question of how to erase a memory; there is not even any certainty as to where to apply the eraser.
     In Chapter 3 the problem of the locale of memory was pursued one step further, and it was noted that it has become increasingly difficult, if not almost impossible, to identify bits and pieces of memory with specific areas or parts of the animal. From some studies of low forms of life it appears that memory is not destroyed even in animals which have been chopped up and fed to others of the same species. One must suppose, if these experiments are valid, that, in principle, memory inheres in some way in every fragment of the individual, as though the generating organ was specific and localized, but the essence generated was widely diffused. We have no way of knowing whether this is true of man, but by implication we might suppose it to be so, since the divine agent of cleansing is the blood of Jesus Christ, which is to be compared with blood in natural life, which visits and carries away wastes from every cell in the body.
     In Chapter 4 we explored some of the consequences of the scientific

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conception of man as a physico-chemical mechanism, the behaviour of which is to be explained entirely in terms of purely natural forces. This is the reductionist argument, the materialistic philosophy of nothing-but-ism, carried to its logical conclusion. Man is simply a machine, subject to failure like any other machine and perhaps socially, but not really, morally accountable. Admittedly the machine has gone wrong, but it cannot be held responsible. If anyone is to blame, the designer must be. This philosophy tends to undermine the sense of personal responsibility and renders meaningless any concept of sin as a moral offense against God. And yet, deep within, a feeling of guilt still remains to plague the individual, a feeling which is irrational if there is no such thing as sin and all the harder to deal with for its very irrationality. One is more likely to find a kind of "peace" when the cause of the problem is clearly identified with unforgiven sin, for it then needs only that some guarantee of forgiveness be obtained. Almost all religions have aimed to provide this guarantee by one means or another. And up to a point they have been successful to the extent that their devotees have believed in the guarantees they provide. Yet, without exception, they entirely fail to do what the Gospel succeeds in doing. For they can never "purge the conscience," since they never reach down into the recesses of the forgotten past. They can never so completely blot out the record of offenses which have accumulated there that the individual goes away genuinely and lastingly unburdened from the disquieting sense of guilt and in full and conscious fellowship with God. Yet this was the end for which man was made, and he never finds fulfillment until he has achieved this kind of fellowship.
     The truth is that man needs not merely forgiveness of the sins he can recall and feel sorry about -- though he most certainly does need this. What he really needs, to restore peace and health to his soul, is a washing away, a cleansing, a total removal of the burden of the accumulated sins which he has carried with him in the depths of his unconscious -- that cesspool of wickednesses, great and small -- which he cannot voluntarily recall because he has "forgotten" them, but which are filed away nevertheless in some part of his being which, for all its "hiddenness," is still a vital part of his real self. It is here that God performs His great work of cleansing and unburdening, bringing at one and the same moment forgiveness, and the blotting out of the record, so that we need never again be ashamed in His presence. In some mystical but none the less real way, this kind of cleansing is only possible through the blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:9). There is no other road to the level of purity which God demands, for which man was intended, and without which he has neither peace, health, freedom, nor a sense of fulfillment.

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     True peace, the peace of God which passeth understanding, comes not merely because we know we are forgiven for the things which we recall in the shallower parts of our memory, but it comes because we have also been forgiven the things which we have forgotten and which lie in the deeper parts of the subconscious. Clearly, we cannot at present be aware of the fact that cleansing has taken place in these depths, but we can and do become aware of the liberating effect of God's forgiveness and cleansing.
     What is really fundamental to my thinking in this Paper is the fact that God also forgives all those things which we have completely forgotten, the offensive content of the subconscious. The man who goes to a priest in confession, whether he is a native in Africa or a Roman Catholic in our own neighbourhood, can only confess what he can recall by normal processes of thought. And this is all that the priest can claim to give him absolution for. Even if the priest in such a case had the power to forgive, which I do not believe he has, he can neither expunge from the memory of the penitent what he has confessed nor do anything for all those things in the penitent's life which he has entirely forgotten. But God can do both.
     There are undoubtedly some things which though completely covered by God's forgiveness are yet left in our memory. They are allowed to remain, not that we might continue under condemnation (Romans 8:1), but that we might be chastened, warned by them, and learn from them. As for the unremembered things, which over the years weigh down the soul with a sense of dis-ease the cause of which is not recognized, it is these which God utterly blots out, removing them as far as the east is from the west. This part of the burden, unlike the fragment of remembered things, is not even taken by the Lord to be used to instruct or correct. They are, in short, a burden that is as useless as it is draining. So they are simply blotted out and the burden lifted. To the child of God it is as wonderful to rejoice in the sense of total forgiveness per se, as it is to know precisely what has been forgiven -- which, in fact, we probably never shall know.
     Meanwhile, the malaise of society is but a reflection of the sickness of the individual. And a great part of the sickness of the individual stems from unforgiven sin, sin that poisons both the conscious and the unconscious part of his memory. In the final analysis the ills of society cannot be cured except through the individual.
     One thing more remains to be said about the grounds upon which God forgives man. P. Carnegie Simpson observed very truthfully: "Forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties, to God it is the profoundest

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of problems." (77) It is indeed. You and I ought to forgive an offender for any personal affront to our moral sense simply because we also are in the position of being an offender against others in the same way. The moral fabric of the universe is not shattered by our "connivance" when we overlook this kind of wrongdoing, since it is not dependent upon us to sustain this moral fabric. It rests with God, who cannot simply say, "Never mind," when we act offensively by disregarding His law. For in so doing, He would be violating His own moral order. This is why the Jews felt they really had the Lord Jesus trapped when they brought the woman taken in adultery before Him. He could not condone it: yet He must somehow show that He could find a way to forgive her.
     So how can God be just and the justifier of the unrighteous (Romans 3:26)? He can, only if He Himself assumes moral responsibility for my offense and then pays the full cost of my indebtedness Himself. And this is precisely what He did when He made His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who knew no sin whatever, to be a sin-offering for me that I might be accredited with His perfect righteousness instead (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because my offense has been fully compensated for, God's forgiveness is not evidence of His moral laxity but a proof of His great love.
     After all this has been said, it seems to me of great importance to underscore the fact that the children of God do not enjoy the wonderful sense of forgiveness which comes through faith in Jesus Christ because science has provided evidence which makes such faith allowable. Scientific evidence is not the basis of our faith and contributes nothing to that wonderful sense of freedom we experience. But such evidence does leave men with less excuse than they formerly had for rejecting the divine offer of forgiveness and cleansing as revealed in Scripture, and until the social sciences awaken to this fact, their labours, no matter how sincere and unselfish they may be in conception, will always be unrealistic.

77. Simpson, P, C., The Fact of Christ, p.162, quoted by Albertus Pieters, Divine Lord and Saviour, Revell, New York, 1949, p.117.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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