The Bible is full of admonitions to remember God, what He’s taught us, and what He’s done for us. Through remembrance, we hold on to what we’ve learned in the past and live in light of it in the present. Throughout the Bible, God’s people face future fears by recalling God’s former faithfulness. Remembrance stirs up greater trust in God, it brings to mind what He’s done and said in the past, and it reminds us what we’ve learned from God.
But the Bible also has many warnings not to forget. Forgetfulness casts aside everything we’ve seen God do, what we’ve learned about Him, and the spiritual knowledge we’ve gained over the years. It exchanges God’s ways for our own ways. Below are three ways our faith suffers through spiritual forgetfulness.
1) Forgetfulness is A Worship Issue
Forgetting God is no small matter. The Bible links forgetting with ingratitude as a root problem in our idolatry. Throughout the Bible, grateful remembering is to worship what ungrateful forgetting is to idolatry.
The problem with forgetting God and the gospel is we put something else in their place. When we neglect God’s role in our life, we fill His spot with something else (an idol). The throne of power and worship in our heart never stays vacant long. When we set aside the truth of God’s Word some other opinion or competing belief will take its place. Forgetting leads to sinning because it leads false beliefs, false hopes, false idols, and false promises. These not only hinder our holiness before God but harm us by stealing our joy in God.
We will either remember and follow God in worship and obedience, or we will forget and move towards some idol taking his place. Having forgotten God’s goodness and sin’s bitter bite, we wander toward the same siren traps we vowed to avoid. “Idolatry is rooted in forgetfulness—forgetting what God has done for Israel. Fidelity is rooted in remembering.”
Like your weed-pulling in summer, use the Word to rip out any subtle lies creeping up in your heart. Every day you open the Bible, God has something to teach you. It might be a new lesson but it’s just as likely an old lesson to guard yourself from forgetting. He wants to show you again who He is and what He’s like so you lean on Him. After reading the Bible, ask yourself, “In light of what I just read, what do I need to remember today?”
2) Forgetfulness is A Wisdom Issue
Scripture also draws on the themes of remembering and forgetting to surface lessons we must not ignore. God teaches us in the Bible and then trains us through our life experience. Life gives a classroom to either practice what we learned or prove we need to learn things again. To be forgetful of God is to be foolish.
If you want one book to see this emphasis, go to Deuteronomy. “We could summarize the message of Deuteronomy with the phrase ‘do not forget.’ The key to remaining faithful to God and living in faith was, in large part, remembering who God is and what God had done for Israel.”
This last book comes at the end of Moses’ ministry. Israel eagerly awaits entering the promised land. Poised to take this long-anticipated step, Deuteronomy offers a crash-course on their history and God’s commands. It reviews what Israel should have seen and learned.
God knows how quickly they forget. He clearly, and very kindly, tells them in advance what they should remember (Dt. 4:9; 5:15; 6:10-15; 7:18; 8:1-20; 9:7; 16:12; 32:18). Chapter 8 especially teaches this lesson. Twice they’re told to remember God alone led them and provided for them (8:2, 18). Three times they’re forewarned not to forget this (8:11, 14, 19). But unfortunately, once Israel possessed the things they wanted and life seemed comfy, they put God back on the shelf. Where they should have gratefully kept alive the memories of God’s work, they moved on and expressed their ingratitude.
When we read about Israel (OT) or the disciples (NT), it’s easy to shake our heads about how fast they get off course. One minute God rescues Israel from slavery and the next minute they ask to go back. In one conversation Jesus tells the disciples he came to lay down his life, and before long those disciples argue over which of them will be the greatest.
I’m not that different. God teaches me something in the morning and I’ve dismissed it by mid-afternoon. God answers a direct prayer that boosts my faith in Him, and one week later I’m doubting if He ever answers prayer. What I’m thankful for one month I’m grumbling about the next.
Whether it’s done willfully or in ignorance, forgetting God foregoes wisdom and sets aside knowledge. The result is we have to learn it again. Don’t you want to save yourself a lot of time, pain, and frustration? Remembering rather than forgetting God not only honors Him but it’s doing ourselves a favor.
It’s like listening to the morning news or checking the traffic on your phone. They warn you not to take a certain road because of an accident leaving vehicles stuck in a slow-moving traffic jam. You’ve been told in advance and can save yourself time and lower your blood pressure if you pay attention and remember. But, you get caught up in other things, neglect the warning given, and you wind up stuck in a line of cars crawling along. You’re now wanting to pull your hair out and asking God for a roadside Exodus miraculously parting the cars so you can head to your destination. Forgetting is costly but remembering pays off.
3) Forgetfulness is a Wealth Issue
In addition to producing worship and promoting wisdom, remembering gives perspective on the wealth of resources we have in God. One way we shoot ourselves in the spiritual foot is ignoring the resources and provision belonging to us. If we forget God’s promises, we ignore the benefits and provision belonging to us. We are wealthy but live poor because we never cash in on God’s reserves.
In Psalm 103:2-6, David connects blessing the Lord with a reminder of all the benefits of life with Him. He appeals to God’s people to not forget where their forgiveness, healing, satisfaction, redemption, and strength come from. Remembering stirs gratitude for God’s provision and it brings to mind the resources available in Him now.
When discouraged or weary, we often turn to substitutes or we push forward, but we forget the reservoirs of grace God stands ready to pour out. When tempted, we forget God’s promise there is an escape (1 Cor. 10:13). After sinning, we stay in the prison of guilt and try to dig our way out as we neglect the wonderful gospel-truth that Jesus already paid for this sin. He promises to cleanse us when we confess (1 John 1:9-2:2). When suffering enters our path, we forget God is in control and He will walk us through the deep waters (Is. 41:10; 43:2). Don’t forget who your God is and what He’s capable of doing for you.
Remembering brings to mind the untapped resources we forget we had all along. Remembering compels us to turn and trust in the one who proved Himself reliable and trustworthy in the past. Forgetfulness leads us away from God and to idols, it exchanges wisdom for foolishness, and it neglects the wealth of resources available to us in Christ. Remember; don’t forget.
See Ex. 16:1-3; Num. 11:4-6; Dt. 4:9; 6:12; 8:11-20; 9:7; Judges 8:34-35; Ps. 78:11, 42; 103:2-5; 106:7, 13-14, 21; 2 Peter 1:9.
Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 79, quoting Halbertal.
Thabiti Anyabwile, “Strengths We’ve Lost: Missions,” 10/24/13 https://thefrontporch.org/2013/10/strengths-weve-lost-missions/accessed on 1/10/19.