by Alastair Sterne
August 21, 2012
6 min read
Guy Fawkes simple nursery rhyme has been re-popularized in recent times by the movie V for Vendetta. “Remember Remember the Fifth of November” is etched in the collective conscience of English history, calling upon people to remember what was, what could have been, and what is now. Guy Fawkes understood the power of remembering, and how quick we are to forget.
Our forgetfulness can be rather nerve racking can’t it? Have you ever gotten up and walked into a room to get something only to forget what you came into the room for? We so quickly forget little details: things, places, tasks, names. And as the years go by we seem to forget large parts of ourselves. Only a few select memories continue with us in broad brush strokes. The minute details of our lives are inevitably clouded by the fog of time. The various authors of Scripture don’t overlook this. Over 100 times the Bible calls out our forgetfulness, especially our hard wired proclivity to forget God himself.
Like Guy Fawkes nursery rhyme, there is a mantra throughout the Scriptures to Remember, Remember! It’s a continual command in light of our forgetfulness. It occurs over 200 times in the Bible. Its sort of a big deal to me, I do have the word Remember tattooed on my forearm after all (and not just because I’m some hipster Christian). I have the word in my skin with permanent ink in hopes that I might actually heed to God’s command to remember, or at least see my tattoo and remember.
But remember what?
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ” writes Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians (Eph 2:12). We are to be a people who remember their past, to remember their full stories, and not just the major moments. We remember what life was like while we lived in the darkness of not knowing God, grasping about for meaning and fulfillment.
I have noticed that the more I retell my story, and with the more time that has elapsed, the more vague it gets. This and that happened, but I forget the heart of what was involved. It’s a historical retelling rather than recounting a life lived. The other day I was going through some old emails, and an old blog and I felt like I was reading another person’s mail and journals. It was eerie. I could hardly recognize the person who was expressing themselves so rawly, so honestly, and at some points so crudely.
I found an email that I wrote to someone just after I had become a Christian and I was down right appalled at how disrespectfully I treated him, how arrogant I was, and how contemptuous I felt towards him for the most minor offense. It’s so easy to factually say “I struggled to be a decent person”. It is another thing altogether to remember that I was arrogant, deeply egotistical, completely self-centered, and that I left a trail of wreckage everywhere I went. No wonder that I’d only prefer to partially remember my past from a macro level rather than in the nitty gritty details.
As I read that old email I remembered what life was really like at the time I was separated from Christ. At that time in my life I thought I was a pretty decent human being, but in looking back I see how much my life did not reflect the goodness I thought I had. To be honest, I was pretty shocked at my lack of decency.
Now, God doesn’t just want us to wallow in who we were. Often in the Old Testament when God accuses Israel of forgetting him, he calls them to repentance, but also he calls them to simply remember who He is and what He has done for them. Why? Because when we remember how good God is and how good he has been to us it transforms us. It is when we forget God that we get into precarious things.
Paul picks up on this and calls us to “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Ti 2:8). As I remember myself—who I was, who I am now and the radical gap between the two—I also remember Jesus.
After remembering how I was separated from him, I could actually see him so much more clearly throughout my life. I was acutely aware that who I have become cannot simply be attributed to maturing (although it plays a part). It can only be attributed to Jesus, who has given me a new heart, who has given me His Spirit and who has helped me grow more into a person that looks more and loves more like Him. As I remember Jesus, risen from the dead, I remember His love for me in this place right now. He gave his life for me. And then, dare I believe it, that He loved me even in that place 8 years ago.
The act of remembering who I was in contrast with who I am now also causes within me a bit of fear: when I look back on who I am today in 8 years will I feel the same sense of embarrassment, the same sense of being dumbfounded at the mistakes I was making?
Almost certainly the answer is yes.
That is the beautiful part of the discipline of remembering. When we remember honestly, when we remember with as much accuracy as we can, we remember all our warts and quirks and mistakes that we would rather forget, it humbles us. Yet when we don’t just remember our life apart from God but also our life with God we remember just how much God loves us, and how much God has done for us—having done everything when we did nothing. As Tim Keller puts it “We are far worse than we dare imagine, and far more loved than we dare to think”.
Take time to remember that you were once separated from Christ. Take time to remember the Risen Lord, who died for our sins and remembers our sins no more. Take time to remember he transforms us and takes us out of the cloud of forgetfulness into a beautiful place of worshiping God. From this remembrance flows awe, gratitude, thankfulness, rejoicing, perspective, and most of all worship.