Like most teens, Jill Price had her share of difficulties — the usual highs and lows. But Price’s world was changing in ways that she didn’t understand. No one else seemed to get it either. Since she was 8 years old, she could remember just about everything that happened to her. And then, when she was 14, she had the intuitive knowledge that her memory of her life was complete. She could, in fact, remember everything that happened to her.
Her grades in school were average. She could not remember lists, names and dates — that sort of thing. But she had total recall about events she’d experienced. For example, she could remember the dates she saw the dentist from five years before. She knew what she was doing on any Christmas Day of years gone by.
She was blessed — or was she cursed? — with a memory that would not allow her to forget anything. She couldn’t forget!
Later, in the early 2000s, she would be the first person to be diagnosed with “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” (HSAM). After spending years working with Dr. James McGaugh, a neuroscientist and memory researcher with the University of California, Irvine, she co-authored a book about her life living with this syndrome: The Woman Who Can’t Forget.
The claim for what the media would describe as “total recall” is admittedly weird. This is “twilight zone” stuff that’s right up there with a sighting of a pizza-shaped flying saucer, or the face of Jesus seared on a flour tortilla.
Fortunately, as McGaugh and others began to work with Price, the truth of her claims became apparent. She had kept a diary, and this allowed researchers to verify her claims.
If you were asked to “name the dates of every single time you’ve visited” a doctor in the past five years, could you do it? Price could.
Since the media has caught wind of Price’s amazing memory and the HSAM phenomenon, others have come forward, including artist Nima Veiseh. Once, he corrected scientists when they erroneously cited a certain date on which Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Researchers believe that as few as 50 people in the world have HSAM.
And then there’s God.
God doesn’t just have “highly superior” memory. God has the highest form of memory. God has the memory of an elephant. God has the memory of a mother. God has a memory like no one else.
God is memory. And yet, curiously, God can also forget.
So, let’s discuss what God cannot and can forget.
To the psalmist, it seems apparent that God has indeed forgotten something — or someone. The writer — we’ll assume it’s David since that’s what the heading of the psalm states — says that God has forgotten him! “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (v. 1). To paraphrase the first sentence, we might put it this way: “Really? You’re still ignoring me, God?”
And then David says, “Can you really forget me forever?” And he doesn’t let up: “How long will you hide your face from me?” (v. 1). This latter expression is no doubt a reference to a more powerful person looking away from a less powerful subject or supplicant.
This evokes the image of the “hidden God,” — the “idle God” who has withdrawn from the world to let creation and its inhabitants fend for themselves. In God’s absence, God forgets us — or so David believed.
He continues in this vein for the entire psalm. Four times, his complaint begins with “How long …?”
This lament sounds very much like the breakup of a relationship. The jilted party has phoned and left messages or texted a jillion times.
“Hey! How long are you going to ignore me, you jerk? How long are you going to keep running away from me? Do you think you can forget me forever? Could you please have the decency to tell me how long you are going to keep me hangin’ here, ʼcause I’m in some pain — as if you cared. But, of course, you’re not likely to care about my pain and the sorrow in my heart, now are you? It doesn’t seem to bother you that you’ve publicly humiliated me after I made such a show of declaring my undying and steadfast belief and trust in you! So how long am I supposed to put up with this crap?”
That’s the tone here. Raw. Bitter. Harsh.
This is pretty much Psalm 13.
Unfortunately for David, no answer comes from God.
David doesn’t get closure or relief. He’s left with doubts and despair.
Honestly now. Haven’t we all had moments like this? We’ve all shared this experience with David. If you say you haven’t, I congratulate you but, honestly, I can’t relate to you.
The gates of heaven are sealed tight. God’s away from the phone. He’s not picking up. And so, God clearly doesn’t care. It would appear that God has run out on us, abandoned us and left no forwarding address.
And after all we’d gone through together.
In fact, you think that God has forgotten you. God is — shockingly — the forgetting God!
But, here’s the thing. There are some things that God cannot forget.
And you are one of them.
God may be omnipotent, but this is one thing that God cannot do. God cannot forget you.
There’s a remarkable passage in Isaiah — 49:14-16. It begins by noting that “Zion” complains that “the Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” But then, a rhetorical question on the order of “Is the pope Catholic?” is posed: “Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?”
Uh, well, no she cannot.
The text continues by asserting that it is more likely that a mother will forget her child than God will forget us.
Not going to happen.
And then, there’s this addendum in verse 16: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands …”
Old Testament scholars don’t agree on some of the specifics, but all agree that this is an allusion to the practice of what we might call religious tat work. God says that we are tattooed on His palm!
It was quite common in the culture of those ancient days for a slave to bear a brand mark of his or her master on the arm or palm. Or, a soldier might want to write the name of his commanding officer on his hand. A religious acolyte might do the same thing with the name of her God. Sometimes this was accomplished with needle punctures or staining the skin in some way.
Here, God is saying that the Divine, ineffable Creator and God of the universe has inscribed us in the palm of his hand. God cannot forget us. We’re right there in his palm!
Of course, this is an anthropomorphic representation. Still, it represents in a puny, symbolic way a reality which must be much more fabulous, because a sign always signifies something greater than itself.
Tattooed in the hollow of the hand of God! As Max Lucado has said: “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning… Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!” That’s beyond amazing! God cannot forget us.
And yet … the psalmist clearly believes otherwise.
What can we do when our mind is telling us lies that the heart does not want to believe?
We think that God has abandoned us, but our heart does not quite believe it.
Isn’t this what we call the trial or testing of our faith? It is the refiner’s fire; it is how the “testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4). It is that “fiery ordeal” about which the apostle Peter writes (4:12), and about which we should not be surprised.
So then, we should not be surprised when confronted with moments of divine silence, according to the apostle Peter. We should remember that, according to the apostle James, the testing of our faith has several positive outcomes.
We should have a conversation with God as did the psalmist in this text. Conversation is good. When we lift up our doubts and fears, our prayers become more authentic than ever! God doesn’t mind, and perhaps welcomes, those moments when we get real.
And finally, we must act and move forward in faith as though God has not forgotten us. Because … God has not forgotten us. The psalmist seems to have come to this place. He writes, “But I trusted in your steadfast love” (v. 5). Even when he felt ignored and forgotten, his trust in the chesed (steadfast love, loyalty) of God brought him through the crisis.
So, are we to conclude that God cannot forget anything? Does God have the same problem as Jill Price? Does God have a divine version of a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory?”
God has a perfect memory, except for the curious gaps or lapses. When a child of God repents of sin, rebellion, disobedience, mistakes and wrongdoing, and when that same child asks for forgiveness, then God acts like most parents would. God forgives. What parent can resist a child who comes running and crying with remorse and regret? Of course, the child receives forgiveness and the human parent probably forgets about it in due time.
How often has someone apologized to you, and you wave your hand and say, “Aw, forget about it. No worries”?
God has the ability to forget … our sins.
The Bible says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). According to Isaiah, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (43:26). In the New Testament, we read: “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). And in the psalms, perhaps the same voice complaining about being forgotten by God, is now writing these words: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us” (103:11-12).
Many people would say that Jill Price, the remarkable woman with the remarkable memory now called “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory,” is blessed. Her abilities certainly come in handy in her job as an administrative assistant at a law firm.
But often her memories arise unbidden, chaotic and unwelcome. “Imagine being able to remember every fight you ever had with a friend, every time someone let you down, all the stupid mistakes you’ve ever made.”
And she remembers all this stuff.
God doesn’t. God forgets this stuff.
And we should, too.