Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

My youngest son has an amazing memory for detail. If you play him a song he’s familiar with, he can tell you when he first heard it — year, month and sometimes day — where we were and what we were doing at the time, and probably what video game was released that week.

I, on the other hand, can go back into the ComingUntrue archives, read a two-year-old post, and wonder “Who wrote that?”

It was usually me.

I don’t know about you, but my memory is like a buffer that contains only the most urgent matters of necessity and back-files almost everything else. When it comes to retaining scripture, I find this tremendously disappointing, because it means I am always having to relearn what I previously discovered and even wrote down in great detail. Two, three or four years later, it seems all new to me.

Is it memory loss? I don’t think so. Give me even a small mental connection to hang other facts on, and it will begin to come back; not perfectly of course, but I usually know a great deal more about a “lost” subject or situation than I may initially imagine. It’s more like I have an inability to access certain memories on demand. They are still there, but down in the mind’s basement, or maybe out in the garage under a tarp and stacks of old newspapers where you really have to do some work to bring them back into the light of day.

I would be more concerned if it wasn’t obvious to me that most people I know are going through the same thing, and even more so as we age. One day my son’s memory will not work so well either. We must enjoy these things while we can.

But why is that? Why do things we wish we could retain slip away so easily? Why has God made us in such a way that forgetfulness is part of the package? The obvious explanation is that it is a consequence of sin. Perhaps that is the case. But surely even perfected human beings must prioritize what they think about, giving some matters a higher percentage of their attention, and shunting inconsequential or unpleasant things into a less prominent position, where they rightly belong. It is difficult to imagine a mind so mechanically precise that it would hold every fact equally in its forefront at every moment. I’m not sure such an experience would even be desirable. God does not do it. Certain matters, once judicially dealt with, he takes off the table and very deliberately puts out of mind forever.

Yes, there are good things about forgetting. King Lemuel’s mother reminded him that it is good for the afflicted and for those in bitter distress to have even the temporary relief from misery that comes from forgetting.

Then there was Joseph, who named his firstborn son Manasseh, which means “forgotten”. He said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” This was a positive thing. He was commemorating his forgetfulness. For Joseph, the honors, pleasures and responsibilities of the present day had eclipsed the past and pushed it back out of sight. He attributed the change to God, and he was grateful for it.

Joseph serves as a reminder that whatever our current difficulties and sorrows may be, God can change them in the blink of an eye in ways we cannot imagine. Today’s burdens, which sometimes seem too great to carry, may be remembered tomorrow only in so far as we can thank our heavenly Father that they are no longer part of our day-to-day experience.

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