Remember, or forget it?

Is it good to remember the past, or better to just forget it? A despairing psalmist remembers God’s past goodness in order to keep hope alive:

 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
   yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 
I will meditate on all your works
   and consider all your mighty deeds.
Psalm 77:11-12

Yet Paul writes in Philippians 3 about “forgetting what is behind.” Is this a contradiction? A paradox?

I don’t think it’s either. Rather I think we have something like the distinction Chris made in his last post — viz., whether we’re bringing glory to God versus (just) to ourselves. Philippians 3 seems to be about pursuing God (not resting on our laurels), whereas Psalm 77 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy.

What about remembering our past failures? Buechner makes the very good point that since we are still here, our past failures point to the One wiser and stronger and better than we are:

We have survived, you and I. … Each must speak for himself, for herself, but I can say for myself that I have seen sorrow and pain enough to turn the heart to stone…. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, as the old prayer goes, yet often when my heart called out to me to be brave, to be kind, to be honest, I have not followed at all.

[W]eak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough…. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.

Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, p.61

Now before I say anything else I want to mention Romans 8:1, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. When we remember our past failures and sorrows, we must not think in terms of being condemned for them; we remember them because it’s important to remember God’s great love and wisdom and strength.

Why is it so important to remember these things? It’s to keep our heads screwed on straight.

I believe it was in Bird by Bird  that Anne Lamott described the mental radio station she called “KFKD(spouting all lies, all the time). It sends two classes of lies:

  • self-aggrandizement (you’re so much more talented and wise and humble than ____); and
  • self-loathing (you’re about to totally mess up, or about to be found out as incompetent hack).

One kind of lie stops us from growing, and the other stops us from living; either kind will tear us down. But as we remember God’s strength and his goodness toward us in light of our failures, God’s past deeds and God’s Spirit can help us overcome both kinds of lies so that we can live sanely and face the future with hope.

What should we remember to remember today? What should we think about less?

Explore posts in the same categories: contrasts

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