I haven’t been a very good blog buddy lately. I certainly haven’t forgotten you, but the dissertation has taken all the attention I could spare for it this past week.
My research took an interesting turn this weekend, as several scholars noted Donne’s debt to St. Augustine and his teaching on the role of Memory in conversion. I was taught as a child that human beings are made in the image of God in that we possess intellect, emotion and will. Augustine’s model is a little different. According to Augustine, we are like our Creator in possessing intellect, will and memory. Of these three, memory is the most likely to point us back to God because, since Adam fell in the garden, the will is enslaved to sin. Reason is also corrupted because it is so frequently employed in justifying what the fallen will succumbs to.
That leaves memory which possesses, first of all, the natural knowledge of God that He has placed in every human heart. (I’m not sure how Augustine defends this, but I would use Ecc. 3:11, “He has put eternity into man’s heart.”) Everyone comes into the world with the knowledge that we came from somewhere, and that there is Someone important we should discover and know. The theist remembers this; the atheist does not. For Christians, memory is also important to us because life is all about flux. We continually move from one stage of life (and one life crisis!) to another. Memory enables us to hold onto what God has done for us in the past. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually emphasizes to Israel the importance of memory. They were to bind the law around their foreheads (symbolic of making it part of how they thought); they were to teach it to their children morning and evening; they were to put up monuments to the victories God gave, and they were not for any reason to remove those “ancient landmarks.” Even their holidays and celebrations, though they looked forward to the coming Savior, also commemorated what God had done for them in the past – the Feast of Booths to remember their years in the wilderness, the Passover to remember the Exodus, and the yearly Feast of Firstfruits to celebrate how God had blessed them in the past year. All of this because God knows how easily we forget, and how important it is that we should remember.
In his book, Future Grace, John Piper disputes the idea that we will can become holy people out of gratitude for God’s grace. We are not, according to Piper, debtors to grace because grace is a free gift and it does not confer an obligation. Rather, we become holy through living by faith, and this is possible because we remember God’s goodness to us in the past. Citing a the verse in Isaiah 46 where God says, “Remember the former things long past. . .,” Piper explains, “The reason God wants them to look back on the former things” is to increase their confidence in the future things he is planning for them . . . Remembering the former things that God has done gives a good foundation for believing his Word when he says, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (103).
In other words, I will be obedient to God in the future when I remember how He has been faithful to me in the past. He came through for me before, and He will come through for me again, Therefore, I can walk forward with confidence. I can be faithful to Him because He has always been faithful to me.
What has God done for you in the past? I’m pretty sure that whatever test you are undergoing right now builds on the lessons you learned then. Remember. Remember. Holding onto that past glory is the way forward to a glory that does not fade away.