Deuteronomy: Forgetting and Remembering

1.  Some of us are getting to the age where we have trouble remembering and an easy time
forgetting. I like the stories of Einstein forgetting where he lived. He would get lost in thought
and have to call the campus guard to find out where he lived or he would lose his ticket on the
train and not know where to get off. That reminded me of an old story.

A couple had dinner at another couple’s house, and, after eating, the wives left the table and
went into the kitchen.  The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, “Last night we went out to
a new restaurant and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.” The other man said,
“What’s the name of the restaurant?” The first man thought and thought and finally said, “What
is the name of that flower you give to someone you love?  You know… The one that’s red and
has thorns.” “Do you mean a rose?” “Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned
toward the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

2.  The passages this morning are about forgetting and remembering. While there are far more
times in Scripture where God commands us to remember, there are at least two places where
we are encouraged to forget certain things.

The first is in Isaiah 54:4: “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you
will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the
reproach of your widowhood.” That’s an encouragement for some of us for God to promise that
we will forget some things in our past that we don’t want to remember or have brought up –
unless we run for public office. God is intent that we forget things for which we are ashamed and
not to dredge them up or go back and rework them in our minds.

The second is Philippians 3:12-13: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already
been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting
what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”  God wants us to forget what is
behind…and Paul had quite a bit behind him, didn’t he? I remember standing at the back of a
cruise ship a couple of years ago and thinking that was no way to enjoy the cruise – watching
the wake and the gulls feeding on the garbage. I know people who live that way. They live at the
back of the boat and only focus on what has happened in their lives – for good or ill. They live
watching the wake of where they have been.

Forgetting doesn’t mean living without a memory. We all remember what George Santayana
said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is true in more
ways than one. You may have heard the story of Clive Wearing. Wearing developed a profound
case of total amnesia as a result of a viral infection. “Because the hippocampus, an area
required to transfer memories from short-term to long-term memory is damaged, he is
completely unable to form lasting new memories – his memory only lasts between 7 and 30
seconds. He spends every day ‘waking up’ every 20 seconds, ‘restarting’ his consciousness
once the time span of his short term memory elapses (about 30 seconds). He remembers little
of his life before 1985; he knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but
cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife Deborah, whom he married the year
prior to his illness, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, either believing
he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have
just left the room to fetch a glass of water.. Despite having retrograde as well as anterograde
amnesia, and thus only a moment-to-moment consciousness, Wearing still recalls how to play
the piano and conduct a choir – all this despite having no recollection of having received a
musical education. As soon as the music stops, however, Wearing forgets that he has just played and starts shaking spasmodically. His brain is still trying to fire information to
neurostructures that no longer exist. The resulting encephalic electrical disturbance leads to fits.”

3.  Remembering is not just memorizing. Memorizing is important and it is part of remembering
but it is not the same. It is the multiplication tables but not mathematics. It is memorizing the
notes but not the joy of music.

Remembering is not reminiscing about the past. That is living in a world that probably never
existed – the good old days – and certainly doesn’t exist now. God does not want us to live in
the past – no matter how good we think it was.

Remembering is not what Flannery O’Connor called being “Christ-haunted.” “I think it is safe to
say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. It is
interesting that as belief in the divinity of Christ decreases, there seems to be a preoccupation
with the Christ-figures in our fiction. What is pushed to the back of the mind makes its way
forward somehow. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive.” That is not the kind of
remembering God wants.  That is a vague recollection or a residue.

Remembering is not melancholy or dwelling on regrets. I heard a talk by Charles Shields, a
biographer of the writer Kurt Vonnegut, and he talked about how Vonnegut never resolved his
issues with his family. He lived in resentment and it destroyed his life. Most of the problems of
the Middle East are around the carrying of grudges and rivalries that are centuries old and
perpetuated over generations.

Remembering in Scripture is not an anchor that keeps us from moving ahead but a keel that
keeps us balanced and steady. Remembering is to bring the past into the present to inform the
future. It was on the brink of the future that Moses calls the people together to remember. It is the act of remembering that prepares them for the next chapter of their lives. You start the next adventure
with remembering. You don’t move forward until God speaks about the importance of
remembering.

4.  What are the things God wants us to remember and not forget?

First – He wants us to remember Him. Deuteronomy 8:17-18: “17 You may say to yourself, “My
power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the
LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his
covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”

Deuteronomy 6:10-12: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your
fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did
not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig,
and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be
careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of
slavery.”

Before we remember anything else, God wants us to remember Him. Everything else is built on
that. The Church’s one foundation is a person – not an ideology or philosophy or tradition.

Second – Remember when. Remember a particular time. “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. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me,
“Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long
as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” You came near and stood at the
foot of the mountain while it blazed with fire to the very heavens, with black clouds and deep
darkness. Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw
no form; there was only a voice.”

I suspect many of us have memories of particular times when God spoke or we were “close to
the mountain” and aware of his presence. We should not file those times away and forget them.
We cannot live there. We move on. But we remember them and we talk about them with our
children and grandchildren. Times like this are not meant to be like World War II veterans. It
says in Dt. 11:2: “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and
experienced the discipline of the Lord your God…” so we are to not hide those times from them.

Third – Remember who you are and where you came from. I know a few people who would like
to forget where they grew up. They are ashamed of it and would like to get as far from their
upbringing as possible. They want to reinvent themselves so they move away, make new
friends, even change their handwriting and never talk about their roots. I know others who take
their background as a gift and carry their friends with them through life. Many of the moral
failures of pastors I have known have been the result of moving away from who they were and
becoming disconnected – rootless. Others, like Billy Graham, surrounded himself with people he
knew and who knew him. They kept him grounded. The people of Israel probably didn’t want to
talk with their new neighbors much about where they came from. They wanted to fit in, make
good and not stand out as hicks…but God said, “Don’t ever forget where you came from and
what brought you to where you are. Don’t think you got here on your own. You were less than
lower class and you owe everything to my love for you. Don’t make me embarrass you in front
of people or your new friends you want to impress. If you will be obedient, I will make you a
great nation and a “wise and understanding people” and they will be drawn to you.”

Fourth – Remember how the Lord leads. Deuteronomy 8:2-5: “Remember how the Lord God led
you all the way in the desert these forty years to humble you and to test you in order to know
what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” God’s way of leading is
not always the easy road because His purpose is to humble and test to know what is in our
hearts. Andrew MacLaren puts it this way, “So we have to look back on life from this point of
view, that its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs, its work and repose, the vicissitudes and
sometimes difficulty of its circumstances and conditions, are all for the purpose of making us ,
and of making plain to ourselves, what we are…Life is meant, not only to bring us to humble
self-distrust, as a step towards devout dependence on God, but also to reveal us to ourselves;
for we only know what we are by reflecting on what we have done, and the only path by which
self-knowledge can be attained is the path of observant recollection of our conduct in daily life.”
Fifth – Remember your rebellion. This was not said to discourage them but to help them.

Remember how they were disposed to wander and stray from the path. They, like us, were easily
distracted and our natural inclination is to be drawn away by other things. Remembering this
helps us when that happens. Again, Andrew MacLaren says it well:

“Let us remember in order that from the retrospect we may gain practical wisdom. It is
astonishing what unteachable, untamable creatures men are. They learn wisdom about all the
little matters of daily life by experience, but they do not seem to do so about the higher. Even a sparrow comes to understand a scarecrow after a time or two, and any rat in a hole will learn
the trick of a trap. But you can trick men over and over again with the same inducement, and,
even while the hook is sticking in their jaws, the same bait will tempt them once more. That is
very largely the case because they do not observe and remember what has happened to them
in bygone days. There are two things that any man, who will bring his reason and common-
sense to bear upon the honest estimate and retrospect of the facts of his life, may be fully
convinced of. These are, first, his own weakness. One main use of a wise retrospect is to teach
us where we are weakest. What an absurd thing it would be if the inhabitants of a Dutch village
were to let the sea come in at the same gap in the same dyke a dozen times! What an absurd
thing it would be if a city were captured over and over again by assaults at the same point, and
did not strengthen its defenses there! But that is exactly what you do; and all the while, if you
would only think about your own past lives wisely and reasonably, and like men with brains in
your heads, you might find out where it was that you were most open to attack; what it was in
your character that most needed strengthening, what it was wherein the devil caught you most
quickly, and might so build yourselves up in the most defenseless points.”

I love the hymn that says it so well:

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

5.  How do we do this?

It is more like candle dipping than steroids.  It is layer upon layer of obedience in the little things
that eventually build up to a life of wisdom. Making candles is such a good illustration for a life of
wisdom. Dipping and cooling repeatedly over time it grows until it is ready to fulfill it’s real
purpose – light – and then melt away completely consumed.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress
them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the
road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind
them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Impress them on your children…and your grandchildren. The role of grandparents to “impress”
when parents cannot or do not. It is never too late to impress truth on your kids.  No matter how
old they are or how much you might feel you missed your chance there is always a “soft spot” in
their hearts that is impressionable and ready to hear from you.

Talk about them in the normal course of the day. Not Bible verses as answers to questions or
incessant lecturing but a part of the fabric of life – woven into each day but not overdone. More
like breathing. Jesus tells us in the Great Commission that we are to be making disciples as we
go – in the normal course of life and not as a special project.  The same is true for our children.
They hear them that way.

What do we keep around the house as memory aids? Not reproduce a bookstore or a Bible
theme park but reminders of God and His presence in our lives. We all have notes on the door
going out to remind us to pick up the laundry or change the oil.  Have a note that says,
“Remember who you are and where you come from.”

The opening song to The Fantastiks is “Try to Remember” and the lyric says “Remember and
follow”. I think that is what we are to do as well.  We are to remember and follow.

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