Can Life Have Meaning without Memory?

Written by Jeff Carlson on .

MIliitary Cross CemeteryWe stop on this Memorial Day weekend to give thanks for all those who have served our nation to protect our freedoms and the way of life we have here in America. We especially give thanks for those who died for us and ended their journey on a battlefield, often thousands of miles from home, never to enjoy the life that we sometimes take for granted. As is often said, "Freedom is never free." But one of the things that makes Memorial Day memorable is that the Lord gives us the ability to remember. Memory is the one thing that allows us to look back and to gain perspective and value from the past. If we didn't remember, learn from, enjoy or honor the past, life would be meaningless. If we didn't remember those who have gone before us and if cemeteries meant nothing, then our lives would have no purpose. It is only when we remember and honor the past that life becomes eternal and meaningful as it was intended by the Lord. It is only when we remember the past that we truly value our military, our families and those who have gone before us to create the life we have today.

One of the great battles we face today is not on the battlefield but when we forget the past. Our modern world tends to ignore history and just live for the now.  It is easy to forget why we have Memorial Day and just have a nice picnic or party. For many people history seems irrelevant to their lives. We tend to forget that history is the record of God's purposes in the world because all of history is really His Story. History is the Lord's way to remember the past and celebrate the wonderful story of His faithfulness, as well as learn from human tragedy and sin. If we forget the people and lessons of history our lives not only become empty and meaningless, but we end up making the same mistakes again and repeat the errors of the past. The philosopher George Santayana is often quoted about this issue when he said,
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The Lord has created memory and history to teach us about God and ourselves. You might say history is the Lord's living classroom where we get the chance to learn and understand the deep purposes of life and what the Lord has to say about things by seeing His faithfulness to His people. You see at the heart of every Memorial Day is the idea that the Lord remembers us. Without the Lord having a perfect memory of our lives, we live and die in vain. King Solomon, the wisest man is Israel, wrote that without the Lord no one will remember us and will lead to a life of utter vanity. In Ecclesiastes 1:11 Solomon wrote,
There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.
Without the Lord preserving our lives in His memory nothing we ever do will last beyond a generation or so. Without memory we all live but a few years, only to be lost in an endless sea of forgetfulness. This point came in focus to me a few years ago while I was visiting Sweden during a pulpit exchange with a Swedish pastor. Swedes have a common practice of giving up their graves to someone else when their grave is not maintained. I remember being horrified visiting church cemeteries and seeing piles of old grave stones that had been thrown out like trash to make room for the newest person's burial. So in Sweden, not even your final resting place is secured for a witness that you ever even lived. Without someone to maintain your grave, your life simply vanishes from visual remembrance and history altogether.

Now the wonderful news for us is that Lord never forgets His people. The very idea of memory is a deep spiritual truth and reality that points to the Lord and life being eternal. After all, if God remembers us how could we ever die or be forgotten by anyone? God's perfect memory allows us to be just as eternal as the Lord Himself. Throughout the Bible, memory is always connected with the Lord and His covenant with His people through the Lord Jesus Christ. Memory is the Lord remembering His redemptive promises to save and redeem us on behalf of what the Lord Jesus would do on the cross to forgive our sins. A good example of this covenantal faithfulness and memory of the Lord is seen during Israel's bondage in Egypt as found in Exodus 2:24. In this passage the Lord announces that He remembered His covenant people and would deliver them from their struggles through Moses during the Exodus.
God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
It is this remembering of the covenant that explains not only the Bible, but the history of the world and our Memorial Day holiday as well. Everyone and every moment in history are significant, important and should never be forgotten because it is a part of the Lord's redemptive plan for the world. As a result, all our wars and those who died in them have purpose and should be remembered because they are part of the storyline of life and what the Lord is doing in the world for us in Christ. So no matter how evil any war might be, no matter how seemingly senseless any death might seem, the Lord is somehow working things for the good and His ultimate plan for His people through the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of this leads us to seeing the greatest Biblical example of Memorial Day in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ while He was hanging on the cross between two criminals. As death was closing in on our Lord and those next to Him, an amazing conversation took place that was designed to be a witness to every generation in history. In Luke 23:42-43 the repentant criminal cries out to Jesus.
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
This brief conversation summed up the entire history of the world and the Lord's purposes for it. That purpose was for the Lord to die for human sin and give the human race a gracious opportunity to find redemption and forgiveness from the Lord. The Lord told the repentant criminal that He would be remembered forever and that he would join the Lord that day in Paradise. The repentant criminal would not be forgotten; his life would continue forever in the heart of mind of the Lord Himself.

On this Memorial Day weekend, each of us would love to be remembered in this life and after we are gone. We all want to live on and be remembered forever. Deep down inside we know life is more than a few memories in this life or even just a Memorial Day holiday once a year. Deep down inside the Lord has wired us for eternity. Each day of life is meaningful and significant because our Lord Jesus is alive and has remembered us. Each war, each battle and each act of sacrifice and service by anyone is a glorious part of the Lord's covenantal plan and redemptive purpose for the world. So, when we raise our flags, watch a parade or serve our nation in any way we realize the value of every sacrifice and that no death is in vain regarding a greater purpose in the plans of the Lord. In his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln said.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
President Lincoln knew that God was at work during the Civil War as he helped to dedicate the cemetery at Gettysburg. The Lord would not allow that bloody and costly war and the countless dead to be forgotten or be in vain. Their lives would be a part of a new birth of freedom and purpose for the world. That is always the real hope of what lies behind every Memorial Day. That truth is also the foundation for our hope in this life and the next. The Lord is calling all of us to embrace this truth and come to personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior so our life can be meaningful and remembered forever by the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Amen.