What is the life span of a memory, the latent impulses that potentially muster within our minds a given image, a favorite or, perhaps, repulsive incident. How does memory resemble the dream?
Ten silver dollars to the man who recalls his great-grandmother’s first name, twenty for her maiden name. And that query reaches only the third generation.
Each of us lives quite discreetly on our own genealogical shelf, pigeon-holed within our own sense of importance and our own band of consciousness. The newest generation routinely considers itself to be the first, custodians of a long awaited reforming and transforming age, specially imbued with divine-like insight. Starting fresh, this time getting it right.
Oldies are tolerated, not considered a leading source of wisdom and counsel. Favorable memory, thus, is effectively cut off before it can bloom. The new start often is turned into a repeat performance. Reinvention and replication in ignorance, become the new order.
For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten ... [Eccl 2:16] The Bible assures us that neither wealth or wisdom is a guarantee of being remembered. Even when someone is remembered the account is invariably altered. Exaggeration likely has its heyday with any and all versions.
Grace Counters Futility
The writer of Ecclesiastes sounds a somber note, admonishing us to remember the days of darkness. If a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility. Eccl.11:8. With this he teaches us to be glad for each day in turn, to focus on the day at hand that God gives. The obvious implication is that we have no competence to worry about the future, nor do we have skill or profit from regretting the past.
Who doesn’t want to be remembered? The older we grow the more this desire occurs. Good men hope for grateful families that will retell their frayed and faded stories and reverence their faith for generations. Some wish to be thought of for their accomplishments, money or reputation, but youthful pride and preoccupation readily consume the fragile reminiscence, the humor or proverb once so precious. Deep trial or testing, if considered at all, is dulled to the triviality or the muse of only a moment.
The only valuable memory for the Christian is a testimony that speaks of Christ and His love. When we are in Christ, He is our focus, His memory is what matters. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. [Jn 10:3] His book alone records those who are in the memory of God, those about whom God thinks. [Ps 139:17-18]
I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may rise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, and keep His commandments. [Ps 78:2-7]
That we are remembered by anyone is of no consequence. What is important is that each generation be taught rightly to remember God and His holy commandments. Remembering God, we recall His remembering of us.
Why No One Remembers
Why is human memory so weak and disregarding? How is it that things so dear, are quickly lost to such ignorance or disrespect?
In His sovereign wisdom God has made the memory cycle in such a way for several reasons. First, He created man, a finite being, so that no one is able to discern the end from the beginning. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. [Eccl 3:11]
As if man could understand the end from the beginning! God here sets forth man’s need to concentrate on his daily walk, to find fulfillment in his calling and gifts from the Lord, to trust fully in his Creator and Redeemer. He is not to attempt prideful and useless forays into that which is far beyond his meager capacity.
A second reason for the stunted memory cycle is a matter of grace. We are locked into our short span because of our need to learn to fear God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that man should fear Him. [Eccl 3:14]1
Our sinful natures fight against our coming to a true fear of God. Instead, we try to think of ourselves as almost equal to Him. By exalting our wills and disparaging His righteous standard we work against ourselves. Our bobbed memory is one of God’s trimming tools to teach fear, but most often, that proper fear is not in us, therefore wisdom escapes us, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. [Prov 1:7]
More grace is revealed so that, within our pigeon hole of personal history all the things we do as God’s children have true significance. Many people feel their lives are pretty worthless. Some despair when they grow older because they have little to show for their years. No one will remember them. They think there isn’t anything to remember, but God says this isn’t so! For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. [Eccl 12:14]
All of our works have significance in Christ. Nothing is random or meaningless. As Christians our evil works are laid to Christ and His substitutionary atonement. He makes up for every lack and shields us from wrath. He, in turn, provides that flawless righteousness that we cannot produce.
Thus, we are remembered forever by God, in His Son, Jesus Christ. Family memories, fleeting and unreliable as they are, pale and fade away. They are quite irrelevant, trifling in the long run. Societal memories are for the rich and famous, laced with embellishment and whimsy.
Poor memory should spur us to faith. Who can remember the way home? Who wants to recall the sins of their youth? One way in which God has expressed the gospel is in terms of His Covenant. He has sworn that He will not alter that which has gone out of His mouth. Of the righteous man God says, For he will never be shaken; the righteous will be remembered forever. [Ps 112:6]
Rev. Dale K. Dykema
- See also Eccl.8:16-17. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit the writer concludes that man cannot discover the whole meaning of God’s work. Even if he thinks he has a handle on its entire purpose he will ultimately be proven wrong.