A couple years ago, I called my dad to check up on him while he was in the hospital. I can’t recall what sent him there this particular time, but he picked up the phone, light-hearted and positive as ever. “How you feelin’, Dad?” I asked.
“Everything’s all good,” he told me. “I’m perfectly healthy.”
I rolled my eyes and recounted to him his current ailments. The “perfectly healthy” part was an exaggeration, to say the least. And was he really “all good”?
I made my skepticism clear, to which he replied, “Well, this is nothing compared to being shot down in the middle of a war.”
Okay, well played, Dad. I don’t know what it’s like to fly a helicopter and get shot down. Even so, I shook my head, both annoyed at my dad’s apparent denial of his poor health and wondering how he could be so upbeat in a hospital bed.
My dad’s attitude was odd to me but not all that unfamiliar. I’d seen him wrestle with God on his knees, grieve deeply through hard seasons, and admit physical pain. And he’d repeat the phrase, “We have much to be thankful for,” through it all—even through my mom’s death. Life brought ups and downs, some more difficult than others, and his words about being “all good” weren’t denial or naive optimism. I think he was actually saying, “I’m all good...even if in this life, it doesn’t look like it.”
There’s an eternal perspective there you simply can’t fake—a perspective that comes from remembering who God is, what he’s done, and the promises he’s given us to hold onto this side of eternity.
Remembering God’s Promises
In the book of Exodus, God told Moses he would bring Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). A few chapters later, in the middle of instructions about Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the consecration of their firstborn, Exodus 13:11 says, “When the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you…” When. Not if. God swore the land to their fathers, and he would not renege on his promise. Just look at God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-14, “Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.’”
Despite God’s covenant faithfulness, Israel still strayed from him and often forgot. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, Pharaoh began to pursue them. Israel cried out against Moses and against God. They had just seen God’s miraculous hand, yet they began to doubt. But God once again delivered. He led them safely through the Red Sea, destroyed Pharaoh and his army, and decisively showed that Yahweh is God.
Fast-forward a few years. In Numbers 13-14, spies are sent into Canaan. They came back with fruit—a taste of the Promised Land—and reported that Canaan flowed with milk and honey. But all except Joshua and Caleb forgot the faithfulness of God. They didn’t believe God would lead them to possess the land he promised to them, and the people wept and grumbled against Moses and Aaron saying, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”
This cycle reoccurs over and over through Scripture. God makes a promise to his people, they forget and turn away, he draws them back (often working miraculously), they repent, and then soon after, they forget again.
After all God does and all he shows himself to be, how could they still forget?
The Danger of Forgetting
Forgetting can easily lead us toward fear. And we see in the history of Israel that if in our fear we don’t turn back to God, we turn toward something else.
It’s easy for me to point a finger at Israel, or at the disciples who have a similar pattern with Jesus in the New Testament. But how often in my own life do I forget who God is and what he’s done? How often do I forget the promises of God and grumble against him when he doesn’t deliver on my timeline, in my way, according to my plan? How often do I allow my forgetfulness to breed fear?
The further we walk down the path of spiritual forgetfulness, the more that fear multiplies—and our sin with it. Look at the Israelites facing the Red Sea on one side and the Egyptians on the other, forgetting the God who just set them free from Pharaoh. Look at Peter walking on water, forgetting Jesus who stood right in front of him (Matthew 14:28-30).
Look at me, daily striving, toiling, fearing, and anxious even though God is infinitely powerful and infinitely good. I have no reason to turn away, no reason to fear, no reason to reject the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Renewing Our Hope
In The Lifegiving Table, Sally Clarkson writes:
Remembering does not make suffering easier, but it makes it endurable. Joyful seasons of God’s abundance do not negate seasons of pain and scarcity; good times and bad times cannot cancel each other out. No, the sorrow in our lives is real, but so is the joy. So we remember in order to hold on to our faith that sorrow will not have the last word, that a current season of darkness will not last forever.”
Spiritual forgetfulness leads to fear, but remembering renews our hope. We can lay in a hospital bed, weep because of loss, lament over injustice, and cry out in prayer knowing we are held firmly in the hands of God, come what way.
After all, “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
What promises of God do you need to be reminded of today? How have you seen spiritual forgetfulness lead to fear? And what are ways you can practice remembering the promises of God in your own life and as a family or community?