January 28th, 2018
Let’s face it. We all have something in our past we wish we could forget. But hopefully we all also have memories that we wish we could relive over and over again. Moments in our lives that brought us incredible joy. Perhaps we keep a photo on our wall, dresser, or desk of a special day or a special person. Perhaps one of a person that has since gone on to be with the Lord, and whom we wish we could spend just one more day with. Bittersweet memories - those we cherish, but yet also bring us grief. All of these memories, good, bad, and bittersweet, make up our past – a past that we can never go back and change. And yet when we compose our photo collections, even the ones that are just in our minds, we select the memories we want to remember, and leave out the ones we wish to forget.
Sometimes the inability to forget can lead to something called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. Reliving the event through flashbacks or nightmares can interfere with leading a normal life, and cause an immense amount of mental and emotional stress on the individual experiencing it. Sometimes we manage to suppress those horrific memories, only to have them resurface at inopportune times, when something suddenly triggers them to reappear. Because memories never truly go away. Or do they?
A question has often been raised by Christians in regards to memories once we leave this earth. Do we remember every last detail of our earthly lives once we are in heaven? If so, how can we possibly be completely happy? On the other hand, when we see the effects of dementia on Alzheimer patients, it disturbs us. When a spouse no longer remembers the name of their beloved partner, but remembers the name of the pet dog they had when they were 10 years old and wonders if anyone has fed him today. Or a parent forgets the name of their only child. It is heartbreaking and somehow we know this is not how it is supposed to be.
So what is the answer? Do we remember throughout eternity? Do we only remember the good parts and forget the bad? Or do we completely start over with the memories of our past deleted forever?
While the Bible doesn’t say explicitly, I do think there are several clues we can put together. The three Scripture readings you heard today were each written in regards to a different era on God’s timetable. The first (Luke 16:19-31) about the rich man and Lazarus, speaks of the time before Christ’s death and resurrection. When someone died during that era, they went to Hades; one side of which was Paradise for the righteous believers, and the other side was a place of torment for the wicked. There was a great chasm between them. The rich man recognized Lazarus and Abraham. He was also concerned about his five brothers who were still alive. This would indicate that he still retained complete memory of his earthly life. Our second Scripture reading (Revelation 6:9-11) refers to the time of the Tribulation period still to come, before Christ’s return and millennial reign on earth. Since this is after Christ’s death and resurrection, the souls of the redeemed are in heaven, not Hades. The particular souls mentioned in these verses fully remember how they were martyred on earth, and even seek judgment and vengeance on those who killed them. So again this would indicate their memories are fully intact, even the unpleasant ones. Christ asks them to rest a little longer. But if this is heaven, how can we have joy while retaining unpleasant, even downright horrific, memories? Because we will understand WHY we went through all that we did here on earth. We will see it as part of God’s divine plan, one in which He promises that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Look at it this way… Do you think God the Father has completely erased His own memory of His Son’s brutal crucifixion? And as a Father who not only loves His Son, but who Himself IS love, how could it not cause Him extreme agony to watch His Son leave heaven for earth, knowing what He would experience? Because since this was planned before the creation of the world, He not only had the memory afterwards, but the foreknowledge as well! And do you think Jesus has completely forgotten the pain of the nails driven into his hands and feet? Of course not. But had the Father not sent His Son, and His Son willingly sacrificed His life, we would never even have the remotest chance of going to heaven. Instead we would relive the worst moments of our earthly life, completely alone, in utter darkness and despair, for all of eternity, tormented by guilt, shame, and regret. Instead, if we put our trust in Jesus we will join Him in heaven, and be able to view the whole picture of how our memories here, good and bad, have played a part in the grand plan of our Lord which will ultimately lead to our third Scripture readings (Isaiah 65:17-19 & Revelation 21:1-4). After the final thousand years has passed, God will create a new heaven and earth, and destroy the old ones. This is when He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Will our old memories be gone, too? I can’t say definitively. Only God knows the answer to that. But even if we are not set free from the memories, we will be set completely free from any pain they have caused us. Perhaps they will be transformed, as we will be. Perhaps just seeing them from God’s perspective will be all that is necessary for them to turn from bad memories into good ones. Or perhaps they will be destroyed along with the old heaven and earth, and we will embark on an entirely new life, one that is eternal and free from sin and all of its consequences.
Either way, while we are still here on earth we should use our memories as a means to learn and to grow; not by either longing for the past, nor by grieving over it. Instead, we should embrace the present and joyfully anticipate the future; keeping in mind that God let’s nothing happen to us out of chance, and that His greatest desire is for us to come to a knowledge of the truth, to put our trust in His Son as our Savior and Lord, and to leave all of our sins and sorrows at the cross. We can rest in the promise that he will make everything right, that we will be transformed and glorified, and that while we must endure suffering through the dark night of time, joy will most assuredly come with the morning of eternity! Amen.
It is nice to remember,
Fun places that you’ve been,
Happy times in your life,
Or games that you win.
But some places aren’t so fun,
Some memories are sad,
And there are games you haven’t won,
And times that you’ve been mad.
But God uses all of them,
The good and not good, too.
To help you to learn and grow,
And be a better YOU!