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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Vol.3: Man in Adam and in Christ

Part VI





Chapter 1. What Are the Books That Will Be Opened? 
Chapter 2.  What Can Be Erased and How?
Chapter 3.  Mind Versus Brain
Chapter 4. A Sense of Guilt and a Sense of Sin
Chapter 5. Biblical Forgiveness and Divine Forgetting


Publication History:
1970  Doorway Paper No.47 privately by Arthur C. Custance
1978  Part VI in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol.3 in The Doorway Papers Series by Zondervan Publishing Company
1999  Arthur Custance Online Library (
2001  2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)

 pg.1 of 5   

          Ah memory -- the past that is!         


      FOR THE PAST one hundred years, using more and more sophisticated tools, research has been conducted into the process of remembering, but almost nothing has been done in the way of research into the process of forgetting. In current textbooks on psychology one is virtually certain to find in the subject index many pages or even whole chapters devoted to the faculty of memory. The Handbook of Experimental Psychology, edited by Stevens, is a case in point. It refers to only two pages on the subject of forgetting. A History of Experimental Psychology written by Boring follows the same pattern. The process of forgetting is itself almost forgotten, as though it were an area not worthy of research. Since this Paper was first issued, a single report has appeared in Science dealing with this very subject under the title. "Forgetting: Trace Erosion or Retrieval Failure?" The research was done by Richard M. Shiffrin of the Psychology Department in Indiana University. (1)
     It might be thought that the subject would be automatically covered by treating adequately the subject of memory. We have a memory, but apparently we do not have a "forgetory"! In school we spend years trying to train the memory, but after we leave school -- if the truth were known -- we probably spend even more time trying to forget, not trying to forget what we have learned in school but trying to forget the increasing burden of painful memories, of unkind thoughts, foolish utterances, selfish acts, ignominious defeats, and sheer wickedness which increasingly spoil the idealistic image of ourselves and our potential with which we started out after graduation.
     We find ourselves in need of a forgetory, not a memory. Our only recourse is to resort to an occupation which is euphemistically termed "recreation," taking this word to include all forms of entertainment. A great deal of our time, perhaps far more than we are normally aware

1. See Science, vol.168, 1970),p.1601-1603.       

            pg.2  of 5       

of, is spent in mild and not so mild forms of escapism. After an unpleasant event or experience we deliberately try to displace the recollection of it. Indeed, the poignancy of life is bound up, all too often, in things which we have no difficulty whatever in remembering, things which we wish we could forget. The act of memorizing something is a deliberate attempt to imprint it on the mind indelibly and recoverably. And on this process we have a great deal of experimental data. But the act of forgetting is entirely different, because any attempt to erase the message only reinforces the memory of it still further.
     Failing any technique for erasing memory comparable to the techniques we use for imprinting it, we turn to diversion as the only escape: to sleep, to food, to drugs, to displacement stimuli such as noise, the excitement of sports, or the distraction of novels or movies -- or even cocktail parties. We are not erasing: we are merely drowning out. And experience shows that these are not effective techniques, for in the long run these escapes still leave an unwanted residue, as Hamlet said: "To sleep? Perchance to dream! Ah, there's the rub."
     Some countries, for historical reasons, seem to attempt deliberately to take the edge off painful memory by self-flagellation in various forms. The things that a man would like to forget -- more often than not the things for which he blames himself -- he seeks to erase by self-punishment. There is evidence that the Russian "national character," even in modern times, still reflects this method of dealing with a basic problem of human experience, in much the same way that the characters in the novels of Dostoevsky and Tolstoi did. The Russian feels he can best obliterate the past by punishing himself for it.
     The erasure of memory, the assurance that things will be forgotten, is a fundamental component of the principle of Divine forgiveness. It is written large in the Old and New Testament: indeed, it is the fundamental difference between the sacrificial systems of these two Covenants. The Old Testament sacrificial system, as Hebrews 10:3 shows very clearly, was bound up by the concept of remembrance: "But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year." By contrast Hebrews 8:10-12 says: "For this is the covenant I will make. . . .  I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." That this Old Testament principle was to be superseded by a New Testament principle is reflected in the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. For example, Isaiah 43:25 reads: "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." And Jeremiah 31:34 reads, "And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the L
ORD: for they shall

       pg.3 of 5      

all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD, for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
     Now it seems to me to be self-evident that the kind of Divine forgiveness that is spoken of here is quite different from human forgiveness, no matter how complete and sincere human forgiveness may be: for in the very nature of the case we may forgive, but we cannot, by a similar act of will, forget. But if God is going to forgive it must follow inevitably that He will forget. And if He will forget, it follows that we too shall forget, for if we were ever to remember our sins -- were it but for a moment -- it could not help but bring them to the Lord's memory also, since He knows our thoughts afar off and nothing is hid from Him.
     God's forgiveness includes a "blotting out," a total and entire expunging from the record. But what is the nature of this record? Experiments are tending to show increasingly that everything of which we have had conscious awareness is somehow filed away where it may become inaccessible to voluntary recall, but is apparently indelibly recorded nevertheless. Is it possible that these indelible records constitute the books which are to be opened in the time of Judgment as revealed in Revelation 20:12? Is it possible that the Judgment is essentially a process of complete recall, of being exposed to, faced with, and called upon to evaluate in the light of the life of Jesus Christ all the innermost thoughts and schemes and selfish choices of our whole life? Would not this constitute a judgment utterly and completely fair? As we shall see, Penfield's experiments indicate the strange fact that even now segments of memory can be recovered so completely that the experience is re-lived in full. Moreover, while this is going on, the individual can stand aside objectively and talk about it. Such, then, is the potential of memory.
     But what about forgetting? Perhaps this is where the uniqueness of God's forgiving as opposed to man's forgiving, enters into the picture: for it may be that when God forgives, the greater part of the pages of these books are entirely removed, obliterated, rendered as though they had never been, placed absolutely beyond recall either by ourselves or by God.
     Sometimes I wonder whether there is more going on in our subconscious than even Freud or Jung were aware of. One almost has the impression, upon occasion, that the determination to reduce life to the terms of physics and chemistry, so that mind comes to be equated with brain, and thought with chemical reaction, is a desperate attempt of the subconscious in man to persuade himself that with the destruction     

     pg.4 of 5      

of his body will go also the destruction of mind -- and with it the filing cabinet of memory which might be opened to judge him. It is a kind of psychological suicide justified on rational grounds. The plea is that the process of thought, the experience of consciousness, the faculty of memory -- in short, mind -- is nothing more than a physicochemical something in which electric currents produce a series of stimuli in highly complex ways, which can somehow repeat themselves so long as the organ, the brain, functions. Destroy the brain and you destroy the mind. This is "forgetting" carried to perfection. This is escaping any possibility of a Judgment to come by the simple process of annihilation.
     It is quite clear from Scripture that no escape by such a means is possible. It is important to say "by such a means," for there is a way of escape; but it is the way of God's method of forgiveness, a forgiveness which somehow reaches down into the area which we have been pleased to a large extent to ignore, the area of what is out of reach of our conscious minds but "filed away" in our subconscious. We can, therapeutically, by various means recall some of that which we had thought was totally forgotten, and in some cases the recalling enables us now and then to undertake some corrective measures. But we have not blotted it out. Indeed, in the long run, we do precisely the opposite; we remember more clearly than ever.
     What follows is an attempt to explore some of the scientific evidence which, it seems to me, is accumulating daily to show that mind cannot be equated with brain; that Brain is essential for the genesis of the mind, but that thereafter (once generated) mind may somehow have an independent existence in its own right. What we do not have at the present time is the same kind of data to guide us on ways of forgetting, on means whereby mind can be purged of unwanted memories. All we can do at present is to note how extraordinarily persistent memory is, even in animals, and how little it seems to be affected by the destruction or mutilation of the brain with which it is supposed to be equated. It may be that some reader with psychological training and insight will initiate a program of research to throw light on the mechanism whereby God, through forgiveness, can somehow expunge from this filing cabinet so very strangely related to the organ of brain, those records and only those records which tell of thoughts or deeds that we have come to equate with an evil conscience. It is clear from Scripture that He does not simply wipe the mind clean (like a slate), but operates upon it selectively, so that we are able to forget those things in which we have offended, but do not fail to remember the multitude of His mercies (Psalm 106:7).     

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