Remembrance of Things Past - and Present
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past . . ."
The French writer Marcel Proust penned three volumes of an autobiographical novel, recalling the taste of a madelaine and the figure of a woman from years before as vividly as if they were experienced just yesterday. While his character lived an unchaste life, his passions ruling where gods dare tread, one marvels how such images evoked a flood of memories that buoyed his countenance. Proust's narrator would languish in his room for hours at a time, not wanting to be stirred from his dreamy thoughts lest he forget one detail because "when a man is asleep, he has in a circle round him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host."
The idea of remembering is actually a central theme in the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, where the term is used more than 200 times. The concept not only indicates the mental process of "being mindful" of something but also means "to trust," "to hold onto." And, significantly, the verb is often an imperative: "Remember the Lord your God" (Deut. 7:18). The object of remembrance is not our past experiences or accomplishments, but God - His character and His work in history.
One commentator has remarked that the book of Deuteronomy "develops a theology of remembering." In the covenant God made with His people in the giving of the Ten Commandments, He declares, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm"(Deut. 5:15, emphasis added). The Lord exhorts the nation of Israel again and again to consider their status before Him and His mercy toward them (Deut. 7:28; 8:2; 16:12; 32:7).
"Past history serves to give the present its shape," writes another scholar on the understanding of the word remember in the Old Testament. "And reflection on the past serves to remind the believing Israelite that Yahweh can be counted upon to remain true."
In every instance in Deuteronomy, remember is found in the context of covenantal obligation _ "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. This is why I command you to do this" (24:18, emphasis added; see also 24:22; 15:15). That is, the Lord says observe my commandments because you are my people and because I have purchased you from the hands of your captors. Israel's obedience is dependent upon remembering their identity: "The Lord has declared this day that you are His people, his treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands" (Deut. 26:18).
One autumn afternoon in New England a couple of years ago, this idea held my mind captive. A seminary student at the time, I hurriedly read through a theological essay as I needed to get home and begin the annual chore of lugging the cords of firewood from the driveway to the deck,where they were then stacked.
My chapped hands bled as I clutched the splintered wood; my pace was feverish, but my mind was reeling beyond the immediate task. Three words gripped me - the essayist observed that our understanding of God is measured by our determination to own His ownership through Christ in thought, word, and deed.
To own His ownership. Suddenly it seemed that I really understood what it meant to belong to Christ and to call God the Lord God. To own His ownership. How to hold on to, to bear in mind continually, that I am not my own? I have been bought with a price.
We have been called the people of the Book. To understand our identity is to consider, to remember, the character of God and the revelation of His redemptive work in the Scriptures. May we respond faithfully to God's everlasting Word.