One of the hallmarks of faith is remembering. The Bible frequently exhorts us to remember what God has done. Both in the Old and New Testaments, God calls his people to remember. God remembers, God's people remember, and God's people sometimes call on God to remember. For example, in Exodus 12 during the liberation of Israelites from Egyptian captivity, we see several examples of remembering. After 430 years, God remembers and fulfills a promise he made to bring his people back to the land of Abraham, their father. The people remember God's promises to Abraham and God calls them to establish the Passover as a memorial of what God is about to do in their midst. What also stands out is that the people of God remembered to bring Joseph's bones with them. Egypt had forgotten all about Joseph. He was the second-in-command ruler who saved the surrounding nations and Egypt from famine. Under Joseph's leadership, Egypt became wealthy, well-fed, and powerful. Four centuries later, cultural amnesia set in, and the Egyptians forgot their own history. The people of God, however, did not.
There is a parallel to our own day. As Tim Challies recently observed,
It’s increasingly obvious that the modern West has become antihistorical. The past is no longer seen as a useful guide to the present or future, but a misleading, unreliable one. Those who lived in the past are more likely to be dishonoured than honoured. The study of history itself is often seen as wasteful or even dangerous.
This anti-historical attitude is perhaps best seen in the ahistorical "cancel" culture that is rampant in the Western world. Without understanding context, circumstances, and worldviews that influence and shape a particular time and place, our culture is superficially dismissing the past as irrelevant at best and downright evil at worst. The contributions of people, events, and institutions from history are being judged and summarily executed in social media "kangaroo courts." The tweets and blogs and YouTube rants are shaping public perception and public policy. Instead of learning from the past, we have declared war on it. Instead of seeking to understand how perceptions, context, and beliefs shaped various times and places, we universally condemn the past for having different values and beliefs than we do. Instead of understanding how the past has shaped our present perceptions, context, and beliefs and how they still shape us in this time and place, we are glutting on self-admiration and virtue signalling as we dig up the dead and lynch old bones. I need to interject here that we do need to reckon with the past. Evils have been perpetrated, and in many cases, reconciliation and restitution must follow. But before we can reckon with the past, we first need to understand what happened, how it happened, to whom it happened, and why it happened. That is what history is all about. Not only do we need to remember, but we need to remember rightly.
But we have not only forgotten about Canadian and world history. Like the Ancient Egyptians who forgot about the remarkable contributions of Joseph, our own society has forgotten about the civic, social, cultural, political, economic, intellectual benefits of the Christian faith and the church. Not that the primary goal of the gospel is to transform society; however, it is a byproduct of revival and redemption of individuals within a society. Christians are salt and light. We need to remember what God has done in our midst. The world forgets, but we shouldn't. We aren't mired in the past but we should remember. Memory should lead both to gratitude and to fearlessness! If Christians remember the impact of Christ-followers on shaping their own time and place, Christians will be better equipped to continue shaping our present time and place. We need to be thankful for and avail ourselves of the countless biographies and the few faithful historians (such as scholars like Dr. Michael Haykin) who help us remember God's faithfulness to his faithful ones. Let us remember the past, to live in the present so that we can shape the future.
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.
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