Southern Cross DECEMBER 2021

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in the dark, filled with compassion, ready to restore. It is no accident that Psalm 77 remembers the exodus. This was the event that defined who God was to Israel. For Christians it is the cross of Christ. Why are memories that reveal God’s character important? Not so much because they balance out bad memories, but because memories of God shape us into the people God made us to be. In the “memory” stanza of Psalm 119 we read, “In the night, Lord, I remember your name, that I may keep your law” (v55). From an intimate knowledge of God’s character a glad obedience flows, and in the next stanza it spills joy across the poet’s life: “You are my portion, Lord… At midnight I rise to give you thanks… The earth is filled with your love” (vv57-64). By choosing to remember what God has done for us we can begin to be liberated into a new sense of self and the world. As Volf recognised, the gospel provides us with a way to reframe memories and suck the poison out of them. The self that emerges when memories of God surround memories of trauma and loss is a self that is filled with gratitude, freed to live again. To remember God is to live. To forget him is to drift towards death. As David says, “Among the dead no one remembers you. In the underworld, who praises you?” (Ps 6:5, my translation). Forgetfulness is always a tragedy, whether it is wilful or unwitting. The only thing worse than forgetting is being forgotten. It is the ultimate judgment: “the face of the Lord is against evildoers, to wipe all memory of them from the earth” (Ps 34:16, my translation). BEING REMEMBERED Being forgotten is a primal human fear – a fear that pushes humans, whether in Japan, India, Nigeria or Mexico, towards the veneration of their ancestors. In the once-Christian West the fear




of being forgotten expresses itself non-religiously but is just as deep. The finale of the musical Hamilton asks, “When you’re gone, who remembers your name? Who tells your story?” The psalms know a wonderful answer to this question: God remembers your name. Naturally the Lord who knows all things does not remember and forget in the way humans do. “Remembering” describes God’s free decision to direct his attention towards a person. Being remembered by God is what makes humans human in the first place: “What are human beings that you remember them?… You have crowned them with glory and honour” (Ps 8:4, 5, my translation). And when affliction – be it abuse or illness, sin or sorrow – places a human being in the realm of death, their remembrance by God “lifts [them] up from the gates of death” (Ps 9:13; see Exodus 2:24). How does God choose to remember us? Another wonderful answer: he remembers selectively. Just as we are to remember the hurts of our past and think of God, so God remembers the unworthiness of our past and thinks of himself. David prays, Remember Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good. (Ps 25:6-7) When God says that he does not “remember” our sins (Jer 31:34), he means that he directs his attention away from them and towards his love and faithfulness (Ps 98:3). That divine love and faithfulness comes to its highest expression in Jesus’s death for us. And so, God never remembers us without remembering Jesus. When your memory fades and you sleep in death, “who tells your story?” It will not be your children or your grandchildren but Jesus who will tell your story – who will remember you to God as he remembered the criminal who was crucified next to him – and by that act of remembrance raise you up to share in his immortality. In the meantime, our sense of who we are and what the world is like should be shaped not by the memories that flood over us unbidden, but by the memories we choose to call to mind of the one who died for us, and who “always lives to intercede for us” – memories that we carefully place around the troubles of the past. Memory and identity are intimately connected, and much that is good about us was forged in the flames of adversity. What might it be like to carry all that goodness within us, but without the scarring left on our souls by the experiences that put it there? It may be that in the world to come our sins and the sins of others will no longer come to mind, not because we could not remember them if we really wanted to, but because God’s people will remember all goodness just as God remembers it. We will finally be able to be our truest selves – who are, as Miroslav Volf puts it, “fully immersed in the love that God is and that God will create among them”. At the same time, it is precisely the memory of what Jesus endured to free us from evil that will perfect our joy and fill us with songs of praise for the Lamb who was slain. SC

The Rev Dr Andrew Shead is the head of Old Testament and Hebrew Old Testament at Moore College. SouthernCross

December 2021