The power of memory
Chris Cartwright asks "have you had one of those memory moments recently?"
It may be a sound, a sight or a smell that prompts it. An old photograph perhaps, a piece of music, a fragrance wafting through the room, or the taste of a favourite childhood meal.
Suddenly, you’re transported back to a time and a place long ago, and you find yourself responding to feelings and emotions you just weren’t expecting.
That’s the power of memory. It’s one of the most extraordinary aspects of the human experience.
As the field of neuroscience continues to make significant advances in scanning and understanding the physiology of the brain, the reality and regularity of human memory shines as compelling evidence that, as the psalmist said, we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by a loving God.
Memory is no accident of nature, it is God’s doing.
More than a muscle, a chemical or neurological accident or an evolutionary advance, it is hot-wired into humanity by the Creator himself.
I’m increasingly convinced that memory is one of the most powerful tools God has given us to live out his plans and his purposes in the world.
From Genesis to Revelation, the whole Bible account reveals the power of memory in the purposes of God.
The children of Israel forming into a nation and following God’s promises into a land of promise are constantly encouraged not just to know God but to remember him.
To remember his deeds and mighty acts. To remember his actions on their behalf.
To recount and rejoice in his current provision. To remember and retell his promises for future generations.
So remembering who God is and what he has done, what he has spoken and promised, becomes for them a priority of living, written into the rhythms of their days, weeks and years.
It’s no wonder that the psalmist, King David, is drawn to the power of memory. In times of victory and defeat, great triumph and utter desolation, David remembers.
In Psalm 103 he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits.” He continues in the present tense, not the past... “Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases... who satisfies you with good things.”
David comes to his knowledge and memory of God’s loving presence and power in his life, and in the life of the nation, not just as a familiar story from the past but as a living force and fuel for the present.
Memory isn’t designed to strand us or shackle us in the past but to move us, sometimes to push us, forward into the future.
It’s not surprising then that through-out the Bible we are urged to remember.
As followers of Jesus, memory says he is Lord; he is our Lord; he is just and true; he will not forget us.
There are, of course, some things that God forgets. Not because of any limits on his memory but because of his limitless love.
Hebrews 8:12 assures us, “He will remember our sins no more.”
As the book of Romans puts it, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God chooses to forget and remove from us our sins.
Again, in the words of David, “He remembers his covenant forever.”
That covenant came in the Old Testament progressively, but was fully revealed in the new covenant Jesus announces through his death on the cross to pay the price for our sins.
And then one day, after a long walk on the road to Emmaus, two discouraged and disheartened disciples talk with a stranger. They invite him to stop with them and share a meal.
During the meal he takes a moment to bless the bread and the wine and says, “This is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”
There it is again, the call to remember. The risen Christ begins the age of his new covenant by calling them to remember his death, his resurrection and his promise to return.
The first disciples, with the help of the Holy Spirit, began to remember him. Not in statues and shrines but in their hearts and minds. To write him into their very lives.
It’s time that we recapture the gift of remembering.
In a generation that doesn’t know the story, the message or the person of Jesus, we need more than ever to remember ourselves, and to find compelling ways to retell his story to every people group and culture.
Not to get lost in nostalgia but to be released into fresh faith and hope, fuelled by the certainty that God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
What he has promised, he will surely fulfil.
This article first appeared in February's edition of Direction Magazine. For further details please click here.
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