Remember - Remember No More, Part 6: The Gift of Non-Remembrance!

    06.02.24 | by Dr. Lewis Parks

    Remember – Remember No More, Part 6: The Gift of Non-Remembrance!

    Sermon June 2, 2024

    In 2008 Jill Price decided to go public. Her autobiography was called, The Woman Who Cannot Forget. For several years she had been studied by scientists because of her extraordinary ability to recall. Since the age of eleven she has total recall of daily events. Mention a date any from 1974 on and she can tell you which day of the week it was, and assorted details from that day: weather, what she ate, who she talked to, TV show watched, even the episode. She kept dairies so it was easy for researchers to verify. At one point those scientists sprung on her what they called the Easter test. Without any warning, they asked Price what she had been doing every Easter from 1980 to 2003. She could give the calendar date and details like “April 7, 1985, taking it easy, Spaghetti dinner with R”.  (FN: how would you do on that test?) All her memories were confirmed by her diaries. The research team gave a name to Price’s gift: HSAM, “highly superior autobiographical memory”.  But Jill Price does not regard it as a gift. She remembers every negative, every disappointment, every put-down. Her mother says I commented about her weight a couple of times. Jill says, no, it was several hundred, and I can name every date. One of her friends called Price a memory hoarder drowning in the junk. Prices says: the recollections are, “non-stop, uncontrollable, and totally exhausting.” It turns out that a certain capacity to forget is crucial to mental health.

    We’ve been looking at what the Bible teaches about God and Memory these past six weeks. In four of the messages the issue was the need to remember. (1) God creates the rainbow to remind himself of promises he has made to humans; and humans need reminders to keep promises made to God… (2) Jesus lifts up loaf of bread and cup of wine: “from now on let these remind you of my love for you.”… (3) God the Spirit brings to memory things Jesus said and did so they may rise to the surface when they are needed… (4) God the Redeemer directs us to build monuments so we will remember the miracles like the one where God brought the people across the flooding Jordan. Years from now your children will ask “what’s the meaning of that strange pile of stone?” And you will tell the story…In one message the issue was not how to remember but how to forget. How to limit the reach of confessed sin and experienced shame so they do not destroy, forgetting as part of the new and right spirit God creates in a forgiven sinner (Ps 51). …  In this final message we look at God and the end of memory. What kind of memories will we have in heaven? Does God accept our memories as they are, or must they be changed if we are to fit into the new heaven and new earth?  The Book of Revelation is about the final end of all things. I want to look at what it says about the end of memory in chapter 21.    

    First comes the gift of a “new heaven and new earth”

    The sea was no moreThroughout the Bible and especially in the book of Revelation the sea is the last hold-out of the chaos from which God rescued creation in the beginning. It is a power of un-creation and anti-creation. Dangerous creatures lie in its abyss-mal depth. Not only sea monsters, but demons, and the dragon who arises to torment the earth in the final battle of good and evil. God drives back the sea at creation, holds its at bay during the ages of history; but in the new creation “sea” will vanish forever. Evil, even as a potential disturber of creation, the last hold-out of evil, will be gone. [E. Boring]. 

    Unrepentant evil doers are no more… People who persist in evil without conscience. To use another biblical image: people whose hearts have turned to stone. The list has some obvious names: unrepentant murderers, rapists, sorcerers. But it also names persons who have failed repeatedly in the hour of testing of their faith: cowards and liars. No such persons in the new heaven and new earth. They are consumed in the lake of fire and sulfur, subject to what John calls “the second death”.  I believe there is biblical justification for describing hell as the end of body and soul. But the Bible takes their punishment one step more. It says even the memory of them will be gone. In heaven it will be “Hitler who?”

    The new Jerusalem comes downanother way of saying, the Lord’s Prayer is answered: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. The Jerusalem of heaven, the one the psalmists described as a place of peace for pilgrims (122) and a “resting place of God” (132), that Jerusalem will come down and replace the Jerusalem that killed the prophets and crucified Jesus the Messiah. The places of our aspirations (ideal city, town, country) will replace their flawed versions: cities with their congested traffic, small towns with their suspicion of outsiders, country with its weeds. In a word we will be “home”.   

    Then comes the gift of non-remembrance.

    We’ll be home, but not yet “at home” until one more change occurs. We must receive the gift of non-remembrance.… In unforgettable imagery John describes the healing of memory that must occur.  “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the former things have passed away.” It’s not only the elimination of the negative former things, like pain & death; but also, the elimination of rumination over those former things. I’m particularly struck by the phrase: no more mourning… The poet Dante imagined it this way: in heaven, the closer we get to the throne, bad memories fade while good memories grow. [Paradiso, Canto XXXIII].

    Practice for the new heaven and new earth

    Until that day there is practice…  Here’s an exercise that helps. One day Peter asks Jesus, how many times do I have to forgive my brother who wrongs me, seven? Jesus says, “not seven”- at which point Peter might think “oh good, because I couldn’t get past two last time!” “Not seven” Jesus says, “but seven times seventy” (Matt 18:22). Paul puts it this way: love, like the love we’ll have in heaven when we see God face to face “keeps no record of wrong” (1 Co 13:5). The whole cycle of drawing energy from a nursed grievance must end. There will be, must be non-remembrance in the new heaven and new earth.

    So, I’m flying to the Midwest to teach a workshop for pastors of small churches. In Chicago we change planes. Someone says something about putting a yellow tag on our luggage. My suitcase was sitting in the middle of a bunch with yellow tags. I figure I’ll get free-rider status. I skip the yellow tag. Big mistake! My luggage gets sent to unclaimed luggage oblivion and I never see it again. I arrive in Kansas City with the clothes on my back. My colleague who is picking me up at the airport stalls as long as he can as I make inquiries. But we’ve got a 3 hour drive before the evening session and must get started. On the road I spot the familiar blue of Walmart. My driver drops me off and frantically I try to recover the essentials I’ll need to make it through the weekend and back home. I grab my assorted essentials and a carry bag and check out. My checkout person is a lady in her 70s or 80s. I hope she’s only doing this to get out of the house. I must have had a panicked look on my face because after she rings up my items, she looks up at me with a smile of great kindness, “Looks to me like someone is running away from home.”  I laugh, “no Mam, quite the contrary, I came here tonight hoping to find everything I need to get back home. And I did.” … I’m seeing God in that smiling face knowing that so much we fear losing can be lost without serious consequence; knowing that no one can be at home in the new heaven and new earth unless there be some non-remembrance.