Last month, on December 7th, a day was remembered that many of the past generation vowed to never forget. Eighty years ago, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise aerial attack on the American naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii. In the harbor, 21 American ships were sunk or damaged, leaving over 2400 American servicemen killed that morning and more than 1100 wounded, many while they were still in their beds. The next day, the U.S. Congress declared war on Japan, and America entered World War 2. It would be a terribly bloody four years, filled with experiences that many people would want to forget.
As with the beginnings of all wars, the Pearl Harbor attack is a sobering and unpleasant event to reflect on. I am particularly drawn to remember it, however, because my uncle was stationed there at the time. As a child I heard his stories of driving a military jeep while trying to outmaneuver Japanese fighter planes strafing the roads around the naval base with their machine guns. Meanwhile his newlywed bride was down at the harbor’s edge pulling sailors from the flames of the oil-coated water. It was supposed to have been a quiet Sunday morning, the first day of their honeymoon. These and other descriptions burned deep impressions into my mind.
Besides the historic value, there are other reasons for stopping to reflect on events from days gone by. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This aphorism rings true in a general sense, especially for those of us who consider ourselves history buffs. The illogical, self-centered, damaging enterprises and policies that people and governments repeat over and over is difficult to fathom. It’s as if we’re trying to NOT learn.
Remembering for Life
But for a Jesus follower, remembering carries a core significance. The night that He was betrayed and sent to the cross, Jesus passed around a cup of wine and loaf of bread for His followers to drink and eat. He then said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:17-20). He was giving them and all who followed a tangible activity to recall the ultimate sacrifice He was about to make. The act of remembering was to be part of the faith process for all who look to Jesus for salvation and redemption. To partake of the Lord’s Supper and not reflect on what Jesus did is to totally miss the point.
Another remembrance lesson comes through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the descendants of the freed Israelite slaves were preparing to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. Moses, who would not be going with them, once again read aloud the Law given on Mount Sinai. He also added some wise commentary. As they thought about the powerful armies they were about to face, Moses called the people to remember (Deuteronomy 7:18-19). He took them back to the plagues that ruined Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea that saved them but destroyed their enemies. His summation: the same God who did all of this for you in the past is with you today. So, go out and live your life as if it’s true.
Moses also reminded these Israelites of the foolishness of their parents who disobeyed God. It was the previous generation’s behavior and attitude that kept the nation wandering for 40 years. Remembering the results of past mistakes and sin is an important discipline for everyone. It means we must give up making excuses, agree with God’s assessment of our past behavior, and receive His forgiveness. Rather than remember through a lens of guilt, we can have a new lens of wisdom. And of course, if we apply this wisdom the way it’s meant to work, we can learn from the past mistakes and misdeeds of others too.
An Unforgettable Transaction
Remembering can be a source of dread or a platform for hope. As Jesus followers, we are called to release and forget the past that pushes us to live in guilt that’s been forgiven, shame that’s been covered, and trauma that has been shared with the One who has suffered for us and with us. As I heard one preacher say it, “Jesus performed an amazing exchange. He took on Himself my past and gave me His future.” The bad memories cannot merely be forgotten or repressed; they must be swapped for something better.
My uncle went on to fight in the Philippines during the war. He didn’t want to talk about it afterwards. The memories certainly weren’t good. Yet in his later years, he surrendered his life and his past to Jesus, and everything changed for him. I remember visiting his bedside just before cancer took his life. As a boy, l was struck by how his face glowed. The joy I saw didn’t fit his circumstances. But, his personal history was no longer determining his here and now. Nor was it any longer shaping his expectations of what was yet to come. Jesus was the Lord of his past, present, and future. True redemption!
Dark remembrances must be released in faith to Jesus. He in turn wants to build in each of His followers new memories that remind us of who He is and what He has done, and what He has prepared for our glorious future. Remembering can then become a powerful weapon for dealing with today’s pain and sorrows as well as fearful anxiety about the future. For our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
Don’t Be Silent
And this is why we need to tell our stories to one another. Testimonies are memory tools. Recalling what God has done for me in the past can boost my own faith for the challenge I’m presently facing. It also can strengthen those listening who don’t yet have their own arsenal of recollections to draw from. Tell your God stories. Repeat them often.
“Come and listen all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He did for me” (Psalm 66:16, NLT).
Many of us have a forgetfulness problem. We’ve seen God work on our behalf in the past, but when a new challenge, need, or crisis appears, we respond as if we have no idea if God can take care of this one. The temptation is to panic and try to come up with our own solution. But the answer is in our own memory.
Let’s remind each other to remember that no matter what happens, God is good.
(Edited and reposted from December 7, 2020)