The Gift of Memory

“Great is the power of memory, exceeding great is it, O God, an inner chamber vast and unbounded!” ~ Augustine (354-430)[1]

“It is more important that we should remember God than that we should breathe: Indeed, if one may say so, we should do nothing else besides” ~ Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390)[2]_______________________________________________________________

I remember my first day of kindergarten. I remember the first time I lied to my father. I remember celebrating Christmas with my extended family in south Florida. I remember the first time I saw my wife, Debra.

Have you ever paused to thank God for the gift of memory? Are you amazed that God allows you to remember certain events from your past—a beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, or maybe a word or phrase from a loved one?

God wants us to remember. He wants us to remember that we are loved. He wants us to remember that we’ve been redeemed. And he wants us to remember the singular blessings of our lives—those moments when, perhaps even with tears, we’ve said, “Wow, God is good.”

But what does this look like in our daily lives? I think Professor Scott Redd is on to something when he says, “Faithful memory is covenantal memory.”[3] By this he means that memory is “a righteous habit of mind,”[4] wherein we recall God’s words and promises from the past that encourage and instruct us in the present and furnish us with hope for the future.

Faithful (or covenantal) memory reminds us that God has spoken to us, and calls to mind the fact that his communication with us has been via promise and fulfillment.

Here’s what this involves: A righteous habit of mind involves living under the authority of God’s Word. God promised Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree they would die (Gen. 2:16-17). Apparently Eve either forgot God’s Word to her or was unconvinced. Faithful (or covenantal) memory calls to mind each day the reality that God has spoken, feeds on God’s Word (Deut. 8:3; cf. Matt. 4:4), and seeks to live under it. Looking back on redemptive history reminds us that God wants us to live under his word. He sent prophets to his people to call them to repentance, urging them to obey the law, and turn back to his ways—that is, to remember that he had spoken (Jer. 6:16).[5] Each time we open up the Bible we’re reminded that God is a communicative being who seeks to share his life and love with us.

Secondly, a righteous habit of mind involves remembering our dependent status. Simply put, this means realizing that we’re not God. Yes, we’ve been created in his image (Gen. 1:26); yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14); yes, we’ve been “brilliantly created”; but because of the Fall we’re also “brilliantly destructive.”[6] We’re desperately broken on the inside. Although we were created to put God at the center of our lives and joyfully surrender to his lordship, we would rather usurp his authority and assert our own will.[7] We foolishly assume that his authority over us is an impediment to our authenticity, failing to realize that the precondition for living an authentic life requires that we know who made us and why he created us.

I am aware that the previous sentence is not shared by all. To be sure, it brings into focus a competing narrative of our culture: Whose definition of freedom and human flourishing is most desirable? Whereas secularists locate freedom “in an individual subject’s spontaneous power of choice,”[8] the Bible defines freedom as “glad submission to the will of God.”[9] Embracing our dependent, servant status means a life of humility and surrender—a life of faith seeking understanding.

Finally, a righteous habit of mind involves living with expectancy. By living with expectancy I mean living with eternity in mind. Living with eternity in mind leads to making wiser decisions (Ps. 90:12). The wisest decision of all is abandoning oneself to the triune God. Abandoning oneself to the triune God is the wisest decision of all because he is the only one who can satisfy the longing soul (Ps. 107:9 et. al.). Sin, therefore, is preferring other things to the Lover of our Souls. Well did John Piper say, “Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but in God.”[10] Every fiber of our being yearns to behold God’s beauty and dwell in his presence (Ps. 27:4). Sadly, sin blinds us to God’s beauty, which in turn leads us to choose a life of sin—a life filled with lesser beauty.[11]

Living with expectancy, however, constrains us by reminding us of what awaits us: “Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17a). Every tear will be wiped from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). In the new creation “no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’” (Isa. 33:24). With this vision firmly in mind, we prefer death to the denial of Christ; obedience to Christ over the passing pleasures of this world. With this vision firmly in mind we can say with the men who were taken to their deaths in Fidel Castro’s concentration camps, “Viva Cristo Rey!”[12]

Faithful memory is covenantal memory. God has spoken. Therefore, let me memorize his Word. God has spoken. Therefore, let me meditate on his promises. God has spoken. Therefore, let my imagination be captivated by what awaits me. Tolle Lege.

______________________________________________________________________

[1] The Confessions of St. Augustine (trans. John K. Ryan; NY: Doubleday, 1960), 10. 8. 5.

[2] On God and Christ (trans. Frederick Williams; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2002), 27-28.

[3] Scott Redd, “What Should We Remember?” Tabletalk 40:12 (December 2016): 17.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] John L. Mackay, “Spokesmen for God,” Tabletalk 37:11 (November 2013): 18.

[6] Language borrowed from Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), xi.

[7] Peter J. Gentry, “Kingdom through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 12 (2008): 16-42.

[8] See David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 226.

[9] Peter F. Jensen, “God and the Bible,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 495.

[10] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 81.

[11] Augustine, Confessions, 2. 5. 10; 2. 6. 13, 14.

[12] Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag (trans. Andrew Hurley; San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2001), 15.

 

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