The Call to Remember and the Christian Faith (Guinness)

God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt by [Guinness, Os](This is a re-post from April, 2010)

This section of Os Guinness’ book, God in the Dark, came to mind when I was recently studying the repeated command of YHWH to his people: Remember the day you came out of Egypt…  Remember that the LORD your God redeemed you… Do not forget the LORD your God (Deut 5.15, 7.18, 9.7, etc).

“Clearly, memory for a Christian is not nostalgia or historical reverie.  It is far more profound than having a mental skill or a better-than-average ability to recall.  There is all the difference in the world, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, between tradition as the living faith of the dead and traditionalism as the dead faith of the living.”

“The redeemed memory, as it works under God’s Spirit, keeps the living awareness of the present in line with a living awareness of the past.  Thus our gratitude and thanksgiving, which are spurred by a knowledge of the past, are linked to our faith and hope, which engage the present and look toward the future.  This gives continuity and wholeness to the life of faith that are indispensible to its growth and maturity.”

“Ideally the ministry of remembering should be a bright thread running through all our Christian living – individually, corporately, publicly, privately; in the quiet moment of the intimate prayer as well as in the open statements of public thanksgiving…”

These excellent quotes are taken from chapter 3 of Os Guinness’ God in the Dark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Advertisements

History, WWII, and the Christian Faith

One thing that has contributed to the watering down of Christianity in American churches is a loss of knowledge about and respect for history.  Not that we should idolize history, but it sure is helpful to know the past for a whole host of reasons.  It’s good to know how our Christian forefathers wrestled through heresies in the early church era and agreed on biblical conclusions and put them into creeds.  It’s good to know how our Christian forefathers stood firm in the faith when tortured to death.  It’s good to know how Martin Luther agonized over the Psalms as the righteousness of God killed him and saved him.  A church that loses respect for and knowledge of history is a church on its way to a wedding with the world.

Speaking of history, though not specifically Christian, I love how Ken Burns and company describe history in the introduction to their book, The War: An Intimate History, 1041-1945 (New York: Knopf, 2007).  Here are a few quotes from the intro, which are applicable to thinking about history and Christianity.

First, Burns said by neglecting to hear the stories of WWII veterans, “we would be guilty of a historical amnesia too irresponsible to countenance.”  Thus he was compelled to write and film.  Later he says,

“Memory is that deeply personal affirmation of self, that which calibrates and triangulates our sense of who we are, and yet it is also the ambassador of our own individual foreign policy – the agency that helps cement friendships, associations, and ambitions.”

One of Burns’ main points seems quite ordinary, but it isn’t: “There are no ordinary lives.”

[This] “Is a truth…as old as history itself, but one we always forget, especially in a society like ours, addicted as we are now to the breathless embrace of spurious celebrity, to the great tyranny those synthetic ‘heroes’ have over the rest of us.  It is a truth that this kind of nostalgia, and the mindless inattention that issues from it, prevents us from knowing.  It is, however, the theme that issues out of every frame of our film and every page of our book – not so much from our own doing as from simply bearing witness to the stories of these remarkably brave young men. … By stepping into memory, by stepping into the great gift of memory these men and women have given us, we liberate ourselves.”

Well said. Read again how he noted that our addiction to synthetic heroes (movie ‘stars,’ sports ‘stars,’ etc.) prevents us from knowing the truth about ordinary lives.  By going into the past, we free ourselves from the tyranny of this modern mindlessness.  Apply these things to the Christian faith and we have some deep things to think about as we give thanks for the faithful Christians from all places and times who have gone before us.

shane lems

Why Remember? (Meilaender)

 Gilbert Meilaender, the Lutheran theologian and bioethicist, has some very helpful essays on ethics and the Christian life.  I’ve read his book Bioethics before, which I really enjoyed.  I just finished one essay in a collection of his essays called The Freedom of a Christian.  The essay is called “Why Remember?” 

In this essay, Meilaender wrestles with what the memory is good for and if it would be desirable to erase horrible memories.  Apparently there are certain drugs that can prevent the formation of long-term memories.  For example, if you’d undergo a horribly traumatic experience, there might be a drug to wipe that memory out.  Is that desirable?  Meilaender isn’t so sure.  Here are a few quotes I appreciated.

“If we cannot say who we have been, we can never know who we are.  Our humanity lies not in mastery over the construction of our life story but in the virtues by which we accept the limits of the body, live truthfully in the face of the past, and seek to give new meaning to what is painful or misguided in that past” (p. 188).

This quote is a bit longer, but it is worth citing in full.

“One who supposed that he could attain that godlike perspective on the meaning of life might perhaps be in a position to know what experiences were so painful that they were better obliterated from memory.  If, on the contrary, we know ourselves as bodies who live in time, whose lives must have a narrative quality but who cannot know the end or full meaning of our life story, then our task is not to erase memory but to connect and integrate memories – to live the story as best one can who does not yet know how the plot will work out.  Perhaps, in doing so, some of us will believe that there is no past so painful that it cannot be transfigured and redeemed in a truthful story.  Perhaps, in doing so, others among us may suspect that the best we can do is blow on the coal of the heart and see by and by (how the plot takes its course).  But neither approach will find good reason to act as if we already knew the full meaning of life’s story.  In either case we are led to acknowledge our limits, to honor the narrative quality of human life, to accept our need to sustain the life stories of another, and to wonder at the mysterious depths of a ‘memoried’ human life” (p. 190).

This is highly applicable to the Christian life.  Many of us have some memories we’d love to erase.  But perhaps it might not be desirable after all.  In God’s plan and providence, the tough parts of our lives are important shaping events that he might use to grow us in grace.

shane lems

Remember Yahweh: Memory and the Christian Faith

 This section of Os Guinness’ book, God in the Dark, came to mind when I was recently studying the repeated command of YHWH to his people: Remember the day you came out of Egypt…  Remember that the LORD your God redeemed you… Do not forget the LORD your God (Deut 5.15, 7.18, 9.7, etc).

“Clearly, memory for a Christian is not nostalgia or historical reverie.  It is far more profound than having a mental skill or a better-than-average ability to recall.  There is all the difference in the world, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, between tradition as the living faith of the dead and traditionalism as the dead faith of the living.”

“The redeemed memory, as it works under God’s Spirit, keeps the living awareness of the present in line with a living awareness of the past.  Thus our gratitude and thanksgiving, which are spurred by a knowledge of the past, are linked to our faith and hope, which engage the present and look toward the future.  This gives continuity and wholeness to the life of faith that are indispensible to its growth and maturity.” 

“Ideally the ministry of remembering should be a bright thread running through all our Christian living – individually, corporately, publicly, privately; in the quiet moment of the intimate prayer as well as in the open statements of public thanksgiving…”

These excellent quotes are taken from chapter 3 of Os Guinness’ God in the Dark.

shane lems

sunnyside wa