A thought occurred to me recently which I think makes an interesting position for us. If we take Jeremiah 31:34 (also quoted in Hebrews 8:24) seriously and literally, then the ‘new covenant’ (which Christian theology says is the one created through the death and resurrection of Christ) means that sins are not just forgiven but they are erased from memory. This is especially the case in the Hebrews paraphrase/quotation (less so across translations of the original passage in Jeremiah). God promises to ‘remember their sins no more’. This is more than just forgetting or ignoring them; it is an active erasure from memory.
This story seem to be similar to the plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s an excellent film, but I’ll give a short summary of the plot for readers who have not seen it. The film begins with a couple (Joel, played by Jim Carrey, and Clementine, played by Kate Winslet) who has hit rock bottom in their relationship. Clementine undergoes a procedure by which her entire relationship with Joel is erased from her memory. When they cross each other and Joel discovers this, he enters a state of depression and undergoes the same procedure. The bulk of the film deals with the erasure of Joel’s memories (starting with the most recent). As the erasure goes further back in time, Joel begins to lament undergoing the process because he realises that their relationship was not as bad as he thought it was. In fact, he tries to keep hold of their shared memories. Yet he is unable to remember anything about their relationship (only a meeting place). If the film was darker (which I tend to prefer in these kind of plots; the ‘original ending’ of Butterfly Effect is similar), it would have ended here with the complete erasure of their memory. However, to give the film a ‘happy’ resolution, it ends with Joel and Clementine meeting each other and discovering that they once had a relationship together. Clementine warns that it could happen again, but both are willing to give it a try again. A ‘dark’ interpretation of this would see the ending as the endless cycle of happiness–>pain–>erasure–>renewal, but the ending is too open-ended to guarantee such reading.
However, God’s erasure of sins is not the same here. The sinner remembers all of it — and this marks the transformation of sins into guilt. It’s closer to 50 First Dates than toEternal Sunshine because one party remembers it all. What we have instead is a relationship in which the human sinner bears the burden of remembering the ‘bad’ details in the relationship while God has erased them from memory. The result of this is one of (at least) two possibilities: a sense of guilt in the sinner through which she must be always penitent for her misdeeds or a twisted sense of power in which the sinner can therefore abuse God without recourse. In either situation, the God-human relationship, when seen as a normal human relationship, is an abusive one. Perhaps the best way Christian theology can become relevant for people today is by disavowing that abuse and finding other ways of relating to God.