Does God Forget or Remember?
Have you ever had a moment when you suddenly realized that you forgot to do something really important? Likely, you found your heart began to beat faster and perhaps you broke out in a bit of a sweat.
This happened to me recently in the middle of one of my college classes; I had an important paper due the next morning, and I suddenly began to panic because I couldn’t remember whether I had submitted the paper, or if I had just imagined that I had. How could I have forgotten to do something that important? Now, there have been occasions when I have forgotten deadlines or important things; thankfully, this wasn’t one of them. When I checked the submission status after class, I saw that I had in fact remembered to turn in the paper.
Since we are such forgetful people, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to not forget. What would it be like to never have to write something down in order to remember it? And because we are forgetful, it’s hard to imagine that God could be one who never forgets… or does he?
A God Who Always Remembers
I have always been taught that it is impossible for God to forget us, but recently I came across the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 that made me question that. Hannah is introduced as a faithful wife of Elkanah. Though we don’t know much about her, we learn of her love and devotion to the Lord and Elkanah, and that she was being humiliated because of her barrenness. It didn’t help that Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, constantly reminded her of this reality.
At this point, if I were Hannah, I would be really angry. I would be angry at Penninah for mocking me, angry at Elkanah for choosing a wife who is unbearable, and angry at God for appearing to not hear or care about my cries. And Hannah does weep bitterly. Yet, she also prays with hope. She asks God for a miracle, so she may give birth to a son and then offer her child “to the Lord all the days of his life” (1 Sam. 1:11).
Eli, the high priest at the time, saw her in this emotional state. After initially thinking that she was drunk because of the way she was praying, he hears about the sorrows of her heart and her desire for a child.
The story does not end there though, as verses 19 and 20 brings good news:
…the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the LORD.’
What a blessing, after all this waiting! … but hang on a second. God “remembered” her? What’s that supposed to mean? As I read this, I was struck by the thought that maybe God had really forgotten about her for a while.
Does God Forget?
This isn’t the only place where the Bible says that God remembered a person and their situation—he also remembered Noah, Abraham, Rachel, and the Israelite nation. So surely, there must be a reason the authors chose the word “remembered.”
And there is. It’s called anthropomorphism.
Anthropomorphism is a literary device. According to the dictionary, it’s a way of describing something in human form to something that is not human—specifically to a deity.
So, God doesn’t forget. But he knows that we think he forgets. During the hardest days when you’ve lost your job, your child is wandering from the Lord, your health is declining, or you are overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness, it sure doesn’t feel like he is a God who remembers. But he is a God who remembers. He remembers you just like he remembered Hannah. Sometimes, we might not be able to see the way he remembers us until he brings something to fruition. But we can confidently rest in the truth that he does remember us, in his perfect timing.
A God Who Always Remembers…in His Timing
I recently got engaged to an amazing guy who I have been dating for around three years. As our relationship got more serious and college graduation came into view, we started to talk about marriage. After he asked my dad’s permission to marry me, he took me ring shopping. It was such a blast! But after he took me ring shopping, I had no idea when he would buy the ring and propose; after all, I had heard from multiple sources that rings take months to come in. How was I supposed to wait that long? After what seemed like an eternity (but in reality was only about four weeks after the ring shopping…I guess rings don’t actually take that long to order!), he did propose, and it was one of the most joyful days of my life.
I had no control over when my now-fiancé would choose to propose. It was all in his timing, not mine. Maybe Hannah felt this way too, because it was clear that she had waited a really long time to have a child—and to think I only had to wait four weeks!
What Can We Learn from Hannah?
Even after Eli the priest promised that the Lord would provide an answer to her prayer, verse 20 says that it was “in due time” that Hannah conceived and bore a son. Reading that makes me wonder: More waiting? Really God? Yet, what we often forget is that God does not work on our timing, because his way is better than any timeline we could try to drum up.
Although what Hannah endured during the period of waiting was not what appears to be a fun experience, it led to the breaking of her heart to the point of dedicating her son, Samuel, to the Lord for his service. This is the same Samuel who later became the judge and prophet God used to bring both King Saul and King David into power. He went on to do wondrous works through Samuel and through these kings. But that was the result of him first working through Hannah.
Through her waiting, Hannah leaned into the Lord and grew to rely upon him more fully for her provision. So, when those times of painful waiting come and it seems like the Lord doesn’t remember us, we shouldn’t be so quick to discount what he’s doing. Paul provides a good formula for these times:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:3-5).
During those moments where you find yourself wondering whether he sees you, he does. If find yourself beginning to lose hope, remember that our God always remembers. And even when it seems like he doesn’t remember, he does and he will act.
Lean into that waiting, friend, and eagerly await the time when he makes his purposes clear. The process isn’t easy, as Hannah’s story reveals. Nor is it the way we plan. But trust me, it will be worth the wait.