Remember what we should, let go what should be forgotten
By Ronnie Woolard
Saturday, April 7, 2018
“I thank my God every time I remember you.” — (Philippians 1:3, The Bible New International Version)
One of my favorite memories from my first year of teaching involves an episode near the end of a class in which we had been studying the Exodus. I had emphasized what a dramatic moment it was when Moses appeared before Pharaoh and demanded that the Israelite slaves be released from Egypt. My comments must have run past the time for class to end because from the back of the classroom came a plaintive cry, “Let my people go!” The whole class burst into laughter and, yes, the captives were released.
The ability to remember is one of God’s wonderful gifts to us. Think of how many times you have enjoyed recalling pleasant memories of the past. No matter how many times you have told and re-told certain stories, they always make you laugh.
Even painful memories can be a gift from God. It may be something which happened to you which was not your fault. Or it may be something for which you were guilty. As you remember your disobedience, you might wince with regret or shake your head in disbelief at how foolish you were to fall prey to Satan’s trap.
So whether they are pleasant or painful memories, God can use them for our good. That’s why we find so many admonitions in scripture to “Remember!” The Bible has 250 passages which demand that we “remember” and 64 passages which command that we “never forget.”
Del Tackett leads an apologetics ministry called the Truth Project. In one of his lectures he asserts the following about our nation.
1. We have forgotten things we should have remembered.
That was the primary reason for ancient Israel’s downfall. Later generations forgot what the Lord had done for Israel (compare Joshua 24:31 with Judges 2:10-11). This cycle occurred repeatedly throughout Israel’s history. Eventually, it led to the permanent rift between the northern and the southern tribes. Ultimately, the northern tribes disappeared from history in the Assyrian Exile, and only a remnant of the southern tribes survived the Babylonian Exile. It can be fatal for a civilization to “forget what should be remembered.”
2. We have remembered things we should have forgotten.
This point is less obvious than the first one but no less true. One application of this truth is the need to forgive rather than hold grudges. But let me focus on another application of the same principle.
Hasn’t it become fashionable in some circles to highlight America’s failures instead of its successes? They include injustices perpetrated against Native Americans, the evils of slavery, and decades of segregation and inequality.
No one is denying that there are skeletons in the closet of our history. No one is insisting that these abuses be swept under the carpet. None of them should be forgotten! But neither should these failures be allowed to define us.
Yes, the same Thomas Jefferson who penned those noble words about “all men being created equal” owned slaves. But because the Founding Fathers were grounded in the values of the Judeo-Christian worldview, those lofty aspirations laid the foundation for a better nation as these truths produced better fruit in later generations.
Our entire history has not been one dominated by oppression, racism, bigotry and other social evils. On the contrary, we have been a beacon of hope to oppressed peoples around the world. American blood and treasure have been spent to liberate millions of people from brutal dictatorships.
So, yes, we should admit our mistakes but never let them blind us to what has made this nation great. We remember our failures as a nation for the same reason we remember our personal failures — so that we can learn from them and make better decisions in the future.
All of this is captured in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He referred to admirable accomplishments in his life because of his zeal for the Lord. He also acknowledged his horrible mistakes when his zeal was misguided. So he concluded, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Ronnie Woolard is a professor of Bible at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and may not be those of MACU.