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If God Remembers, Does He Also Forget?

If God Remembers, Does He Also Forget?

Exploring the Literary Pattern of God’s Remembrance

Have you ever noticed the phrase “God remembered” in the Bible and wondered what it means? How could he remember if he never forgets? Is God sometimes absent-minded or a little distracted? To understand this, let’s trace one of the literary patterns biblical authors use when they say “God remembers.” As we study the whole story, we’ll find out how proactive, empathetic, and attentive the God of the Bible really is.

“God Remembered”: The Design of God’s Pivotal Response to Noah

The Bible first gives us the phrase “God remembered” at a crucial point in the flood narrative. You might recall the story. Noah follows the faithful ways of God while living in a culture of rampant violence. Even though God sees the goodness of Noah and his family, he also recognizes that humanity at large has corrupted creation, dragging it through bloodshed and injustice. Heartbroken, God resolves to wash away this corruption while preserving Noah and his family. The rain pours, and God’s tears flood the earth. For months, Noah sways back and forth in an ark, floating on chaotic waters and immersed in darkness. When all seems lost at sea, the action shifts with one pivotal statement:

“But God remembered Noah...”

Genesis 8:1

When it seems like things couldn’t get worse and God has forgotten his promise to Noah, the author reminds us that God remembers. This assurance is the precise moment when everything changes. The winds begin blowing, and God sends his ruakh over the waters. And just as God provided new life through his ruakh “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:2), the ruakh again brings new life. Floodwaters recede. The dove finds green land. And Noah’s ark docks on a mountain top, ready to begin again.

Notice in the diagram below how the flood narrative is symmetrically arranged, and the phrase “but God remembered” in Gen. 8:1 anchors the entire story from the center of its design. God’s remembrance is the hinge point of the entire story, shifting the narrative from cosmic chaos to new creation life.

The Macro Design of the Flood Narrative

What God Remembered

So what exactly did God remember?

In the first stories of the Bible, we learn how God promises to provide a rescuer for humanity⏤one who would heal creation and stop death (Gen. 3:15). But the very next stories describe death spreading quickly through the world. Cain kills his own brother (Gen. 4). His ancestors create a city of violence, and spiritual beings corrupt God's creation design by apparently breeding with humanity and producing giant, violent beings (Gen. 6:1-4). Readers start to wonder: Where is the healer whom God promised? The biblical author's answer is: right here! In the middle of the chaos, God is still at work. He has a plan. When the biblical authors write, "God remembers," we are not meant to understand that God first forgot something. Rather, we are to see God as delivering on his promise.

It may take time, but he will do what he said he would, and he will complete the good work he started. He himself will suffer immensely to stomp out the source of evil and rescue people (Gen. 3:14-15). God continues his commitment to humanity by providing rescue to and through Noah’s family (Gen. 6:18). To say that God remembers is to say that he is doing exactly what he promised. He never forgets.

God’s Character and Remembering

Why is this important? Because God’s response to Noah in the flood narrative establishes a paradigm for understanding a key feature of God’s character throughout the rest of the biblical story. This is not only about God’s response to Noah’s faithfulness, but also about how God operates with all people. From the stories in Genesis 1-8, we learn how God is determined to bring life out of disorder. God is grieved when human choices corrupt his creation more and more, but then, when all seems lost and beyond repair, he does not say, “Forget it. I’m out!”

Like a dedicated gardener who refuses to give up on a garden when weeds, pests, and disease take over, God remains committed to delivering his people when chaos, violence, and injustice ruin his world. God does not abandon his creation when sin overtakes it and threatens ongoing harm. He doesn’t fight to get even. He defends what is good, removes what is harmful, and stays involved to offer recovery. God’s dealings with evil take time, but he is reliable.

“God remembered” is not only a pivotal statement in the flood narrative. This phrase also serves as a template for discovering similar patterns that repeat throughout the Hebrew Bible. Let’s check out a few together.

Key Biblical Examples of God Remembering His People

In the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative, the city is wracked with brutal violence and injustice. God says he’ll end all of this with tremendous fire that, similar to the flood, will be unsurvivable. But, as he did with Noah’s family, God also provides a way of escape for his people. Instead of raining down water, the skies rain down fire, and a man named Lot follows God’s escape instructions. The narration shifts abruptly when we read “God remembered Abraham” (Gen. 19:29). We’re reminded that God is still acting as he promised. Finally, God delivers Abraham’s nephew Lot. He escapes the consuming fire and settles on a mountain (Gen. 19:29-30). See the similarities between this story and the flood narrative in the diagram below.

The Flood Compared to Sodom and Gomorrah

In the Exodus narrative, Egypt is guilty of slaughtering an entire generation of baby boys and enslaving millions of Hebrews for more than 400 years. God’s deliverance begins as baby Moses is saved through an “ark” (tebah, the same Hebrew word used for Noah’s vessel; see Exod. 2:2-3 and Gen. 6:14), and then “God remembers.” The pattern emerges again! When “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exod. 2:23-25), he is again making good on his promise to bless and preserve life. Instead of flood waters or fireballs raining down, various plagues rain down on Egypt, putting an end to its violence and murder, while Moses leads the captives out of Egypt, safely (and on dry land) through the Red Sea waters.

Notice in each of these stories how the authors first show human evil reaching an intolerable tipping point. God sees the brutality, experiences deep grief, and then “remembers.” When the author is telling us that “God remembered,” the biblical pattern reminds us that God is going to act. Then, notice how his first actions look like de-creation (e.g. the flood), which is painful for everyone. But in the middle of that pain, when it’s natural to feel like God has forgetfully abandoned everyone, the authors remind us that God indeed remembers his promise to bring life.

Each example shows us how God remembers and grieves with his people during their time of suffering in our broken world. And while it takes time, and occasionally things get worse before they get better (e.g. Exod. 5:19-23), he is determined to rescue and heal (see Exod. 6:1-8).

Feeling Forgotten

As the stories unfold, many characters and even whole communities described in the Hebrew Bible are consistently wondering if God truly remembers them, or if he has forgotten and abandoned them. Generations suffer under empires of oppression and flood-like devastation. Is their God still the same God who rescued their ancestors from Pharaoh's armies? The psalmists sometimes record their questions in prayer and contend in the pain of their circumstances. But the psalmists continuously express their belief that God’s goodness and promise remains the same. He is reliable and will continue to be (e.g., Ps. 77:7-20).

The ancient prophets enter the conversation too, calling on God to remember his character and deliver them from troubles. Habakkuk prays, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Hab. 1:2).

The prophet Isaiah assures his people that God has not forgotten. He remembers them consistently and with great care, like a mother remembers her infant (see Isa. 46:14-16) and will build them up to begin anew (Isa. 44:21-26).

All the Hebrew Scriptures⏤the law, writings, and prophets⏤poetically bear witness to the ways God has faithfully continued to remember his promise to save his people. And the repeated, patterned emphasis helps us know and trust that he will continue to do so. The New Testament picks up on exactly this theme, leading us to the ultimate significance of God’s remembrance: the birth of Jesus.

In Jesus, God Remembers All People

Luke opens his Gospel with an angel telling Zechariah that his barren wife will bear a son, John, who will prepare the way of the Messiah. When that happens, Zechariah⏤whose name means “God remembered”⏤speaks a blessing to describe that the Messiah’s coming is because God remembers his covenant (Luke 1:72). Mary similarly honors God with a poetic prayer after learning she is pregnant with the Messiah, Jesus. She praises God for remembering his mercy and helping his people (Luke 1:54-55).

In both scenarios, Luke describes Jesus’ arrival in this world as an act of God remembering his covenant to rescue his people. And just like the patterns in the Old Testament, starting at the pivotal moment with Noah, God remembering means his plan to deliver new creation life is in action.

As Jesus becomes more publicly known, we see God open the skies for the Holy Spirit to descend on Jesus “in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). When we read Luke’s account through the lens of Noah’s story, we see how the Holy Spirit resting on Jesus as he rises up from the baptismal water is similar to how Noah’s dove rested on him and signaled that there was good land for humanity to begin life again. Jesus, like Noah, becomes a symbol of God’s remembering, specifically as it connects to God’s saving and rescuing actions for human life.

Remembering Leads to New Creation

Jesus is humanity’s new beginning. He is the new ark that preserves our lives through chaos and death, and he is the newly washed earth where humanity can start fresh. He is the new Moses who still rescues us from slavery into freedom (like a good Moses should), but he offers more than Moses could have.

The Holy Spirit that rests upon Jesus “in the beginning” (see John 1) is the same Spirit poured out upon his followers. Just like the ruakh of God receded the floodwaters and signaled a new creation (Gen. 8:1), the wind of God’s Spirit signals the beginning of a new creation (Acts 2:1-4). Whereas Heaven’s fires washed out the injustices of Sodom and Gomorrah, the fire of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 cleanses Jesus’ disciples to live free of the sins that perpetuate injustice. His Spirit empowers his disciples to partner with him in expanding new creation life by remembering and reflecting his kindness and mercies to the world.

As we observe the story of the Bible, we learn that God’s remembrance of his promise often becomes the turning point from death to new life. Because God remembers his promise to rescue humanity, he saves Noah from a murderous culture, Abraham’s family from unspeakable injustice, and millions of Israelites from slavery.

Because God remembers, he becomes a human, the laborer from Nazareth named Jesus. Because God remembers, Jesus himself undergoes the violent flood of judgment and takes on the plague of death to rescue us. Because God remembers, we can be washed from the violence that lives inside of us and begin a new resurrected life with God.

But like all good things, this new creation life challenges us and forms us in unexpected (sometimes uncomfortable) ways. We suffer loss as we partner with God’s redemptive work. Like the psalmists, we have our own questions, fears, and doubts when we see and experience the heartaches of this world. With the prophets, we ask, “How long?” and wrestle to find comfort in the midst of our present circumstances by recalling stories of how God came through in the past.

There is hope—God is a loving creator and healer who does not forget or abandon us; instead, he remembers. While this all apparently takes a long time, God continues moving us from de-creation into re-creation, and he’s inviting us to participate with him. To become like him as co-rememberers who do not corrupt or harm, but instead bless and heal—human beings who join God’s re-creating work of blessing and restoring life.

Continue Learning in the Noah to Abraham Classroom Course

Would you like to continue studying themes like this with us in Genesis? Join us for a free, online Classroom course with Dr. Tim Mackie called Noah to Abraham.

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