Ever since I was little, I’ve kept pieces of paper, dried flowers and leaves, tickets, notes, and photos in various shoe boxes at the bottom of my closet. If it meant something, I didn’t ever want to forget it. I felt like I was betraying an old friend if I forgot details from a birthday party or family vacation. The irony?
I needed those little reminders, because my love of memories goes hand in hand with my forgetful nature. And yours, too.
The purpose of both Memorial Day and Veterans Day is to remember the men and women who have served our country. We prize the remembrance and honor of veterans because if we fail to do so, it proves us unfaithful to them. In some ways, these special days remind me of the countless watchnight services that my parents attended while growing up, and which I sometimes witnessed. Every New Year’s Eve, church members share stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives throughout the past year. They cry, nod, and smile, remembering what God has done individually and corporately. Intentionally remembering his goodness encourages us to seek him for the future – it causes us to be faithful, or steadfast, to him.
What is true about remembering God’s goodness, and therefore being faithful to him, is also true of human beings. We want to be remembered, to be known and loved, and to live on in another’s mind, whether by many people for something we have contributed, or quietly, by someone dear to us. We fear saying goodbye, because we fear being forgotten. When a friend becomes a stranger, we often call it unfaithfulness. Because to be faithful is to remember.
From the Garden of Eden to the Promised Land, we see the parallel relationship between forgetfulness and unfaithfulness. Adam and Eve “forgot” God’s care, believing that the forbidden fruit would give them something they didn’t already have. Eve forgot God’s command about the Tree and added her own postscript of not touching the fruit. When she realized that she could touch it without consequence, she reasoned that it was also acceptable to eat it (Genesis 3:1-6, ESV). This is how sin – the ultimate unfaithfulness – entered humanity: forgetting.
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they complained, disobeyed, lost faith, became impatient, created idols, and embraced distraction. All because they forgot. They failed to remember their past suffering in Egypt (Exodus 16:2-3). They forgot God’s great power in bringing them out of that suffering, his mercy in providing them food, water, and clothing, and his promise to lead them to better places. Forgetting his goodness to them, they became unfaithful and had to wander in the desert for forty years before entering Canaan (Numbers 32:13).
In contrast to this prevalent forgetfulness, 2 Kings 22 & 23 make note of a king of Israel who, living in a time of the nation’s wickedness against God, rediscovered the book of the law in the temple. This king, Josiah, was reminded of God’s desires and commands for his people. Josiah then called the nation to hear, repent, and follow the Lord again. By remembering God’s law, the king led the people to renewed faithfulness and obedience to their Creator.
Because Israel was generally prone to forgetfulness, God set up reminders for the people once they arrived in the Promised Land so “that the next generation might know” and “set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:5-7). Remembering his good works should have prompted his people to trust and obey him. But the Israelites broke faith and “forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them” (Psalm 78:10-11). By forgetting, they naturally became disobedient. From the memorial stones they erected to the tassels on their garments, the Israelites had no excuse to forget God’s goodness – yet they did. And so do we.
We were made to remember. When we forget who we are, and more importantly, Who he is, we do ourselves a disservice, and we act in accordance with our fallen human nature. We can only learn from our mistakes when we remember them. Otherwise, we backtrack, lose ground, and waste time.
But when we remember – the lessons we learn, the people who shape us, the suffering we endure, and the joys we receive – we are faithful, and it both shapes us in the present and for the future.
Remembering what God has done for us reminds us what he requires of us. This is why we take notes, make grocery lists, build monuments, mark graves, keep journals, take pictures, write down answered prayers, and participate in Communion – to intentionally remember the goodness of God in each area of our lives. Because remembering is being faithful, and being faithful is being more like Christ.
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“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.” – Deuteronomy 4:9