Forgetting history shouldn’t be an option

December 7, 1941. What does that date mean to you? I wasn’t around yet. Neither were my parents, but something very important happened that day.

April 19, 1995. How about that one? I was just a little kid, but I remember being aware at that time. But still, I’m afraid if you asked me if something significant happened that day, I wouldn’t know.

October 12, 2000. The same is true. This day is two days after my mom’s birthday and three days before mine, so that’s really all October 12 means to me.

How about September 11, 2001? I’d honestly hope that this date means a little something more than the others. We remember September 11 for the nearly 3,000 innocent lives that were taken by the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

So what about those other dates? October 12, not even a year before the attacks in New York, 17 sailors were killed and 39 were injured in a suicide bombing against the U.S.S. Cole.

And April 19, 1995? The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, and 168 people died, including 19 children under the age of 6.

December 7, 1941 was the attack on Pearl Harbor, where 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 were wounded.

I would never have guessed it in 2001, but in 2014, I’m afraid people are beginning to forget September 11. How could we forget something so awful in only 13 years?

Realize that someone who was 8 when the Twin Towers fell would be 21 now. So in one way it’s understandable how they could forget because they didn’t really know to begin with. But it isn’t them I’m worried about. It’s people like me, who were old enough on September 11 to know what was happening and who have forgotten anyway.

It’s healthy to let go of the hurts from the past, yes, but is it wise to forget what happened altogether? Downplaying the seriousness of it, changing the subject to something less offensive, walking on eggshells so as not to offend someone has a place. Sure. When you’re talking to children, you want to make sure you keep the topic age appropriate. But how many of us have refused to face the real issues in our lives because we don’t want to commit to a course of action that might make us uncomfortable?

Do we honestly think forgetting the damage will teach anyone a lesson? Do we think sweeping the truth of the past under a rug will help us learn how to handle the troubles of the future?

Am American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, September 11,

Am American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, September 11,

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:11.

These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.

Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, is writing here about something that happened in the Old Testament. If you don’t know, the Bible is divided into two sections, the Old and the New. The word testament isn’t exactly the best. It might be better called the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

The Old Covenant deals mainly with how to live before Jesus came. The New Covenant deals with how to live after He came, waiting for Him to come again. But the New doesn’t replace the Old. They’re both the story of Jesus and the story of redemption and grace God extends to His creation. We need both covenants.

The stories of how people lived, how people failed, how people triumphed in the Old Testament are there to help us know what God expects of us now.

It’s amazing to me many times because the Old Testament has horrible stories of violence and cruelty scattered throughout its pages. The Old Testament describes some of the worst things in human history. And the people involved in some of those terrible things were followers of God.

What used to concern me was the fact that even though God says He forgives people, the Bible still takes their stories and showcases their wrongs to everyone.

Nothing can change the fact that David had an adulterous affair and had the woman’s husband murdered. Nothing can change the fact that Moses murdered someone and that his pride prevented him from reaching the Promised Land. Noah was a drunk, and Samson? Dude, let’s not even talk about him.

Why does God tell us those stories if He’s promised to not remember our sins?

If you asked any of those people what their opinion on this would be, I can pretty much tell you exactly what they would say. They wouldn’t deny what they’d done. And they wouldn’t mind that their stories are written down for all to see because they’re true, and their story isn’t about them anyway. Their stories are about God’s grace.

God does forgive. Fully. Completely. And that’s how we’re supposed to live too. We shouldn’t hold on to the past. We shouldn’t cling to our regrets. But it doesn’t change the fact that the past happened, and forgetting that it happened is dangerous.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the tragedies of our past should be forgotten because they offend people or because they make us uncomfortable. History is there for us to learn from it, whether it’s our own personal history or the history of a religion or of a country.

December 7. April 19. October 12. September 11. And all the other dates of all the other tragedies. Don’t ever forget what those dates cost us.

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American flag flying on a skybox overlooking Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Remember

Twelve years ago today, about this time actually, I was heading out to an early class. It was my first year at college, and I was 1,000 miles from home on my own, attending an uber-strict, conservative Christian school. Radios and televisions weren’t allowed, so I didn’t get the news about the attack in New York until my mom called me. We all knew it was a big deal when the school decided to allow the few televisions there to be turned to news stations so we could all stay aware of what was happening in the world outside the protective bubble of the campus.

I remember first thinking it had to be some kind of accident because how could it be an attack? But when it became obvious that it was deliberate, when everyone realized what was happening, I remember the shock and the cold horror I felt, and I remember it clearly enough that it could have been yesterday. It’s hard to believe it’s been twelve years. And if you talk to a freshman in college now, they probably won’t remember it at all. I think that’s what shocks me the most. I mean, the average freshman in college is going to know it happened, but they won’t remember it because they experienced it as small children.

It’s strange how tragedy can unite a nation. The US hadn’t been that together on anything probably since Pearl Harbor. But human memory is short. And twelve years later, as a nation we stand even more fractured and divided and lost than we ever were before, because even the people who have a responsibility to remember have forgotten. If I focus on that, I get discouraged. If I think about what could have happened in response to 911, I get sad. But being sad and discouraged isn’t why I want to remember 911.

American flag flying on a skybox overlooking Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

American flag flying on a skybox overlooking Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Psalm 121.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.

Tragedy comes in all shapes and sizes and God allows it into our lives for many reasons, the most obvious being that it’s the only way we will search for Him (Acts 17:27). Twelve years ago today, we were attacked and 3,000 people lost their lives. But during the attacks and after the attacks, God hadn’t gone anywhere. Yes, He pulled back His hand for a moment and allowed the attacks to happen. That’s His sovereign right, but don’t think for a moment it was something He wanted.

When the dust settled, people wanted answers. They wanted it all to make sense. So they started reaching out for Him, and some of them found Him and held on. 911 changed everyone. And even though we have changed and our country has changed and the world has changed in 12 years, God is still the same. He will still do what is necessary to draw people to Him because He’s better than the lives they would choose to live on their own. And after we crawl out of the dust of the ruins of our choices, He will be there to help us pick up the pieces.

That’s what I want to remember about 911. Yes, I want to remember the people who died. I want to remember the people who sacrificed, not only in New York City but afterward too. I want to remember how the country stood united in a time a darkness. But most of all I want to remember that God didn’t leave us to deal with the tragedy on our own. He was there the whole time.

No matter what tragedy or difficulty you’re facing in your life right now, it’s not too big for God. You can know there’s a reason for it. Maybe the only reason is that God wants you to reach out to Him. That’s between you and Him. But no matter what you choose, no matter where you are or where you’re going, God is big enough to go with you and He’s strong enough to help you through any challenge.

The tragedies in our lives are only meaningless if we forget their purpose. I remember 911. I remember being scared and alone, and I remember God becoming more real to me in those moments than He ever had before. And ever since that day, I know when I’m going through something difficult, He will be there right beside me to help me.

So don’t forget.

Where do we go from here?

Eleven years ago, on a Tuesday very much like this one, I got up around this time to go to class. I was a freshman in college 1,000 miles away from home. Even back then I had a daily routine that I couldn’t deviate from much, just out of concern that I would forget. I’d get up around 6:00 a.m., work on my morning devotion (except that I was reading them back then instead of writing them), and then I’d spend about half an hour on the phone with my mom. Afterward, I’d get dressed and head out in time for my early morning class.

Other students on campus were still in class when we got the news about the attack on the Twin Towers. I happened to be moving during the time the announcement went out by word around the small college I was at, so I didn’t hear about it until I got back to my room. I had a voice mail from my mom. That’s how I found out. Everyone on my floor flocked to the one television in the common area (it was a scarily conservative Christian college, but that’s another story). And I can remember like it was yesterday watching the first tower fall. And then the second.

I wasn’t scared, but I did feel raw inside, and I hurt for the people who had died. I hurt for the families who had lost loved ones. And I hurt for the people who didn’t know.

That same day, we had a moment of silence across campus. At noon, wherever you were, you were to stop and pray as the clock tower chimed. I remember standing on the brick plaza in front of the Varsity Commons, one of the cafeterias, and praying specifically for the families but also for our country as whole. That we would turn to God. That we would recognize that our world is evil and that people left to themselves and their own devices are wicked. And I think for a brief moment, maybe America thought about it.

But it didn’t last. And now, we’re worse than we were.

I blogged on a verse out of Isaiah 65 yesterday, but before I posted, I read the whole chapter. It made me cry. And it made me uneasy because it sounds awfully familiar. It was originally written for Israel, and if you know anything about the history of Israel, you’ll know it came true. And more and more, America seems to be following the same path, so why wouldn’t it be relevant to us too?

But I’m not going to offer an opinion on what it says. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

But no matter what you think about where America stands and what direction we’ve gone in the last eleven years, please don’t let people forget. It’s not being overly sentimental. It’s not living in the past. It’s remembering a very dark moment in our history when innocent people died for no reason, when average people became heroes, and when our country was united for the first time in a long time. And if we can remember that, we can remember what matters.

Isaiah 65 (The Message)

“I’ve made myself available
    to those who haven’t bothered to ask.
I’m here, ready to be found
    by those who haven’t bothered to look.
I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’
    to a nation that ignored me.
I reached out day after day
    to a people who turned their backs on me,
People who make wrong turns,
    who insist on doing things their own way.
They get on my nerves,
    are rude to my face day after day,
Make up their own kitchen religion,
    a potluck religious stew.
They spend the night in tombs
    to get messages from the dead,
Eat forbidden foods
    and drink a witch’s brew of potions and charms.
They say, ‘Keep your distance.
    Don’t touch me. I’m holier than thou.’
These people gag me.
    I can’t stand their stench.
Look at this! Their sins are all written out—
    I have the list before me.
I’m not putting up with this any longer.
    I’ll pay them the wages
They have coming for their sins.
    And for the sins of their parents lumped in,
    a bonus.” God says so.
“Because they’ve practiced their blasphemous worship,
    mocking me at their hillside shrines,
I’ll let loose the consequences
    and pay them in full for their actions.”

God’s Message:

“But just as one bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole bushel,
    there are still plenty of good apples left.
So I’ll preserve those in Israel who obey me.
    I won’t destroy the whole nation.
I’ll bring out my true children from Jacob
    and the heirs of my mountains from Judah.
My chosen will inherit the land,
    my servants will move in.
The lush valley of Sharon in the west
    will be a pasture for flocks,
And in the east, the valley of Achor,
    a place for herds to graze.
These will be for the people
    who bothered to reach out to me, who wanted me in their lives,
    who actually bothered to look for me.

“But you who abandon me, your God,
    who forget the holy mountains,
Who hold dinners for Lady Luck
    and throw cocktail parties for Sir Fate,
Well, you asked for it. Fate it will be:
    your destiny, Death.
For when I invited you, you ignored me;
    when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil;
    you chose what I hate.”

Therefore, this is the Message from the Master, God:

“My servants will eat,
    and you’ll go hungry;
My servants will drink,
    and you’ll go thirsty;
My servants will rejoice,
    and you’ll hang your heads.
My servants will laugh from full hearts,
    and you’ll cry out heartbroken,
    yes, wail from crushed spirits.
Your legacy to my chosen
    will be your name reduced to a cussword.
I, God, will put you to death
    and give a new name to my servants.
Then whoever prays a blessing in the land
    will use my faithful name for the blessing,
And whoever takes an oath in the land
    will use my faithful name for the oath,
Because the earlier troubles are gone and forgotten,
    banished far from my sight.

“Pay close attention now:
    I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
    are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
    Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
    create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
    take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city,
    no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
    or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
    anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses
    and move in.
They’ll plant fields
    and eat what they grow.
No more building a house
    that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields
    that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
    my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
    they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
    with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
    Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
    lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
    but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.