Memory is a tricky thing. Have you ever wondered why you can sometimes recall details of your primary school days with such clarity, while (if you’re at all like me) you can’t always remember what you had for breakfast?
Some things are worth remembering, so we take careful measures to make sure we don’t forget them. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays and such – these yearly celebrations of something worth remembering – we make marks on our calendars, we tie string around our fingers, we leave sticky notes on the fridge lest we forget. In doing so, we are acknowledging to ourselves that it can be quite easy to forget even the very important things. It’s why we have bank holidays, it’s why we build monuments and memorials, and it’s why we keep souvenirs and photographs.
But no matter how easy it might be to forget the good things, how much harder it can be to forget the bad things – the harsh memories of painful times and the haunting recollections of the mistakes we have made. The chance mention of a name, or perhaps passing through a particular town and we realise that, unconsciously, we are clenching our teeth and tightening our fists. As I said, memory is a tricky thing.
It’s clear from scripture that God wants to help us remember the good things He has done. He established the annual feasts for Israel so that they would neither forget that He brought them out of oppression in Egypt, nor take for granted His ongoing care and provision. Christ left us with a memorial “feast” to bring to mind His work too. The words are familiar to us when we take communion:
Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
In the yielding of His body and the shedding of His blood, Jesus brought in the New Covenant. That sacrifice was enough. One time for all time and certainly worthy of remembering. We are right to remind ourselves of it as often as possible. But what about the sins for which that sacrifice made payment? Should we remember those? The Psalmist said
…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
And for his part, the Prophet Micah said:
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)
If God has purposefully made us clean, is it ever right to remember back to the bad times? Well, it depends. Let me explain what I mean. In Romans chapter 8 the Apostle Paul is keen to remind us that:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
However, in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul is quick and unflinching as he reminds the believers at Corinth of what sort of condemnation they had been rescued from:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
So I ask again, is it ever right to remember back to the bad times? Apparently so, but only to highlight the difference that Christ has made. It’s the before-and-after of our testimony. There is no condemnation tied up in the memory of our previous life, so there is no need to be oppressed or dismayed by the shame and the pain of it. But there is grace and thanksgiving in seeing the contrast, in sketching out the before-and-after. Your story is the walking, talking proof that God’s steadfast love is real. Let me encourage you to tell your story. It is the reason for, and the evidence of, the hope you have within you.