Remember - Remember No More, Part 3: Asking God to Forget

    05.12.24 | by Dr. Lewis Parks

    Remember – Remember No More, Part 3: Asking God to Forget

    May 12, 2024

    October 12, 1986 the California Angels are playing the Boston Red Sox for the American League Championship up 3 games to 2. One more win, they take the series. Game 6, 9th inning, Angels are ahead 5-4. Boston is at bat and there are two outs. One more and the Angels win the series. Boston has Dave Henderson at the plate. Angels’ manager Gene Mauch calls on ace reliever Donnie Moore to get him out. Moore quickly goes to 2 strikes on Henderson. The hometown Angels fans began to celebrate. But then Moore threw a pitch Henderson hit deep into the leftfield stands. Moore, his teammates, and the hometown crowd watched in disbelief as Henderson trotted around the basis. Momentum shifted and Boston went on to win that game and the series… Time passed. Players and fans forgot about it. But Donnie Moore could not shake the memory of the fateful pitch. Fans and media didn’t help! They talked about incessantly. Moore went into a deepening depression. His career faded; his marriage became strained. One night in 1989 after an argument with his wife he shot her and then himself. She survived; he did not.

    The Bible celebrates the powers of memory: how like God we are in having a memory: (1) with its vast capacity.  Using Augustine’s images: its endless fields, its deep caverns, its spacious palaces. (2) And with its tenacious hold.  The curve of forgetting may prevail the first few hours, but memories have a way of settling in and hanging around, memories come with Velcro… But with great blessing comes great risk. What about those memories that not only pull us back but pull us down? What about memories of failure (moral or otherwise) that make it hard to move forward in life.  Or what about those shame memories that have no redeeming value?... True story: 6th grade, Akeley Elementary, campus of what is now Lock Haven University. I’m giving a five-minute speech and mix PICTURE as you might take with your iPhone and PICTHER as in baseball. Miss Smith (name changed) had a hissy fit: she said I needed to lose the hillbilly accent. The class laughed. I didn’t. I felt the sting of shame. Wished a hole could open in the beige linoleum floor (details!) and swallow me. If my memory is a spacious palace, that memory is a rat hiding in the basement who comes out occasionally to bite me. I’ve never met a person yet who doesn’t have such rats in the basement of their memory… And if God is the guarantor of all memories and the keeper of all memories, are there are times we need to ask God to forget or at least help us forget? I am calling on the master Spiritual Director King David to talk about when it is appropriate to ask God to forget. I life up three pieces of David’s counsel from the Psalms.

    The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17) … Start here. Memories, especially memories of sins committed are a sign of spiritual health. David is in a brazen state after the affair with Bathsheba and plotting the death of Uriah her husband. He’s blocking out the memory. Life going on like it never happened. Then the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sins: “you are the man!” And David’s mask of self-righteousness falls to the ground. God can’t go forward with David until that happens; but he can restore him to effective leadership after it happens… So, thank God for remembering sin that leads to a broken and contrite heartIn John Wesley’s process of salvation the first step (prevenient grace – the first encounter with the living God often takes the form of the sting of conscience… There are unpleasant memories God won’t put away until we quit denying them.

    Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Ps 51:10) … Weighted down by a guilt memory we confess to God and to others and move on. Weighed down by shame memories we name them before God and others and move on. Weighed down by memories of failure or loss we begin to resist their Velcro nature … We quit indulging in what psychologist call persistent counterfactual thinking. That’s where you play a memory over and over, asking what you should or could have done different; the 2a wakeup call “if only”. The Russian poet Pushkin talks about “burning serpents of remorse” … God does not want us to be captured by those serpents of remorse, consumed by persistent counterfactual thinking. God invites us to pray remember them no more. Loose their grip on me. We don’t want to live in shadow of that memory; we want clean hearts; we want new and right spirits.

    Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O Lord. (Ps 25:7) … And then there is this: one of the most profound prayers in Scriptures. David one more time. “God there’s a lot I am ashamed of. There may be more in the future.” (Wesley said we should pray for God to forgive the sins we don’t remember but he does) “God, In your amazing grace, won’t you look past my transgressions to the child you created in your image. Remember not my sins; remember me.

    I began with a story from baseball; let me end with a story from golf.  It’s the British Open July 1999.  French golfer Jean van de Velde holds a 3 shot lead going up to the 72 and final hole. If he makes par, he wins. If he makes one over par (bogey), he wins. If he makes two over par (double bogey) he still wins. Just avoid a complete disaster and he wins.  Van de Velde first hit the ball 40 yards off to the right. He hit the ball, so it hit the grandstands and bounced into tall grass. Then he hit the ball into the water and actually thought about trying to hit out of there but instead took a penalty point. Then he hit the ball into a sand bunker. By the time he sank the putt he ended in a three-way tie, and he lost in the playoff round… The next few hours and days were brutal. The story of van de Velde’s collapse, as we would say today, went viral. Many predicted that it would destroy him.  But Jean van de Velde did not become the prisoner of a persisting memory. He did not indulge in counterfactual thinking, playing over and over what he could have done differently, what might have been. He said, “my life is more than golf”. He said, “I don’t live in the past” … I don’t know enough about Jean van de Velde to say where that strength, but I know where a disciple of Jesus gets it. We get it from our faith… The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says there’s something final and complete in Jesus’s death on the cross.  “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors…” (Hebrews 13:8-9) … For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 13:12)