Thursday, June 18, 2015

Remembering and Forgetting


I am a historian by training, and so I have a vested interest in remembering the past. I get concerned when people discount the past and history. There is a richness in the past that gives foundation to what we believe and what we do. That said, as any historian will tell you, when creating a historical narrative you can't say everything. You have to decide what to include and what to exclude. Our own biases influence such choices. Anyone who says that they offer a fully objective historical account is not a historian!

I titled this post remembering and forgetting, for in living life we must do both. Some things must be forgotten so that we might remember.  Hebrew Bible professor John Goldingay (of Fuller Seminary) speaks of the way the Deuteronomist tells the history of Israel.  He notes that at the heart of Deuteronomy is  a deep fear about forgetting.  Memory he says is a "struggle against forgetting."  But we can't remember everything. Somethings need to be forgotten so we can remember the right things.

He writes:

While history in the sense of events of the past incorporates everything that has happened, memory not only could not do so, but should not do so if it is to fulfill its function. Forgetting is the companion of remembering in a good sense as well as a bad sense. There can be no such thing as an exhaustive narrative, and no such thing as an exhaustive memory. There has to be omission. Two contrary assertions are appropriate to the relationship between remembering and forgetting. Remembering excludes forgetting; remembering involves forgetting. [Do We Need the New Testament?: Letting the Old Testament Speak for Itself,  IVP, p. 121].
When we tell our story, that story will include stuff from the past. What we share will need to be crafted in a way that involves remembering and forgetting. There is no future without some roots in the past. Some of those roots are problematic. Some are life-sustaining. We may have to forget those things that prevent us from embracing the future, while finding life-giving memories that sustain us on the journey.  So don't forget -- remember the story of God!

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