"The forgetting god"
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/14/20
The Sanctuary Sermon for 6/14/20
“The Forgetting God” Psalm 13
These are ridiculous days that we’re living in now, don’t you agree? The past few weeks have been tragic in cities across America as we watch what were peaceful neighborhoods and thriving cities become battlegrounds. Our airwaves are saturated with sad stories and appalling accounts of violence and destruction as people wild out in an effort to have their cries heard. A month ago, COVID-19 was the news everyone was talking about, but the Corona pandemic has now been bumped to second-tier status in many places. It seems that fear, anger, division and hatred has us in a stranglehold. As David the king of Israel did, it’s days such as these that we ask of God, “Where are you?” Just when things seemed to be looking up, we’re back in a collective tailspin with not so many highs, but more of how low do we go?
Let me tell you a little bit about a woman named Jill Price. Like most teens, Jill Price had her share of difficulties — the usual highs and lows.
But Price’s world was changing in ways that she didn’t understand. No one else seemed to get it either. Since she was 8 years old, she could remember just about everything that happened to her. And then, when she was 14, she had the intuitive knowledge that her memory was complete. She could, in fact, remember everything that happened to her.
Her grades in school were average. She could not remember lists, names and dates — that sort of thing. But she had total recall about events she’d experienced. For example, she could remember the dates she saw the dentist from five years before. She knew what she was doing on any Christmas Day of years gone by.
She was blessed — or was she cursed? — with a memory that would not allow her to forget anything. She can’t forget!
Later, she would be the first person to be diagnosed with hyperthymesia or highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). Eventually she co-authored a book about her life living with this syndrome: The Woman Who Can’t Forget.
The claim for what the media would describe as “total recall” is admittedly weird. This is “twilight zone” stuff that’s right up there with a sighting of a cigar shaped flying saucer, or the face of Jesus seared on a flour tortilla, but as doctors began to work with Price, the truth of her claims became apparent. She had kept a diary, and this allowed researchers to verify her claims.
If you were asked to name the dates of every single time you’ve visited a doctor in the past five years, could you do it? Price could. I can’t remember why I’ve walked back into a room more often than not. Researchers believe that as few as 50 people in the world have HSAM.
And then there’s God.
God doesn’t just have “highly superior” memory. God has the highest form of memory. God has the memory of an elephant. God has the memory of a mother.
God has a memory like no one else. God is memory.
And yet, curiously, God can also forget. Wait. What?
To the psalmist, it seems apparent that God has indeed forgotten something — or someone. The writer — assuming it’s David, as the heading of the psalm suggests — says that God has forgotten him! “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” To paraphrase his first remarks, we might put it this way, “Really? You’re still ignoring me, God?”
And then David says, “Can you really forget me forever?” And he doesn’t let up, “How long will you hide your face from me?” This is no doubt a reference to a more powerful person looking away from a less powerful subject.
This evokes the image of the “idle God” who has withdrawn from the world to let creation and its inhabitants fend for themselves. In God’s absence, God forgets us — or so David believed.
He continues in this vein for the entire psalm. Four times, his complaint begins with “How long …?” This lament sounds very much like the breakup of a relationship. The jilted party has phoned and left messages or texted a jazillion times.
“Hey! How long are you going to ignore me? How long are you going to keep dodging my calls? Do you think you can forget me forever? Can you hear me now? Could you please have the decency to tell me how long you’re going to keep me hangin’ here, ʼcause I’m in some pain — as if you cared. But, of course, you’re not likely to care about my pain and the sorrow in my heart, now are you? It doesn’t seem to bother you that you’ve publicly humiliated me after I made such a show of declaring my undying and steadfast belief and trust in you! So how long am I supposed to put up with this crap?”
That’s the tone here. Raw. Bitter. Harsh. Unfortunately for David, no answer comes from God. David doesn’t get closure or relief. He’s left with doubts and despair.
Honestly now. Have we not had moments, days, weeks like this? Is this not an experience that we’ve shared with David?
Sometimes the gates of heaven are like brass. It’s like God’s away from the phone and he’s not picking up. His voicemail is full. And so, God clearly doesn’t care. It would appear that God has blocked our calls, abandoned us or changed his number.
And after all we’d gone through together.
In fact, you think that God has forgotten you. God is — shockingly — the forgetting God! But, here’s the thing. There are some things that God cannot forget.
And you are one of them. God may be omnipotent, but this is one thing that God cannot do. God cannot forget you.
There’s a remarkable thought in Isaiah 49:16, there’s this addendum. It says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” Hey, we used to do that in algebra before a test. Now, old Testament scholars don’t agree on some of the specifics, but all agree that this is a reference to the practice of what we might call religious tat work.
God says that we are tattooed on his palm!
It was quite common in the culture of those ancient days for a servant to bear a brand mark of his or her master on the arm or palm. Or, a soldier might have the name of his commanding officer or squad on his hand. A religious acolyte might do the same thing with the name of his or her deity. Sometimes this was accomplished with a searing rod or needle punctures staining the skin in some way.
Here, God is saying that the Divine, ineffable Creator of the universe has inscribed us in the palm of his hand. God cannot forget us; we’re right there indelibly dwelling in his hand! That’s beyond amazing to me.
Chapter 8 of Genesis provides a fearsome image of Noah’s ark, as huge a vessel as it is, bobbing helplessly on turbulent waters, buffeted hither and yon by howling winds. God is off wreaking destruction upon the planet and seems to have given no further thought to Noah, his little family and their animal cargo menagerie.
But then come words of grace. Just three little words. The Bible says, “God remembered Noah.” The Lord doesn’t abandon him to the ocean swells, after all. God closes “the fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens.” And then, a full year after the flood began, the earth is dry once again. Dry enough to bear the weight of human feet and all kinds of claws, paws, hooves that were whole and cloven.
The wonder of it all is this—the great Creator God, the one who fashioned space and time out of nothing, is yet able to remember individuals. That’s a remarkable claim. Noah and his family were not alone. We are not alone.
There come times in our lives when storms and floods descend. In a desperate hour, we may feel as though we’re bobbing on the waves, floating on chaos itself. God’s solution, in such a dark hour, is not what we’re typically inclined to ask for. God offers those who are “at sea” not so much a spectacular rescue, but perhaps rather a slow and steady process of the waters’ subsiding. Through it all, God remembers us. And with that remembering comes the promise of new life.
God cannot forget us, there’s always been a rainbow hanging over our heads.
And yet … the psalmist clearly believes otherwise. What can we do when our mind is telling us lies that the heart does not want to believe?
We think that God has abandoned us, but our heart doesn’t quite believe it.
Isn’t this what we call the trial or testing of our faith? It’s the refiner’s fire; it’s how the “testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4). We should remember that the testing of our faith has several positive outcomes.
It’s okay to have a conversation with God as David did in the psalm. Conversation is good. When we lift up our doubts and fears, our prayers become more authentic than ever! God doesn’t mind, he’s big enough and perhaps welcomes those moments when we get real with him.
Then finally, we must move forward in faith as though God has not forgotten us. Because, well, he hasn’t. The psalmist seems to have come to this place. He writes, “But I trusted in your unfailing love.” His heart rejoiced in God’s salvation. Even when he felt ignored and forgotten, his trust in the loyal love of God brought him through the crisis.
So, are we to conclude that God cannot forget anything? Does God have the same problem as Jill Price? Does God have a divine version of a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory?
God has a perfect memory, but he has the ability to forget…our sins. When a child of God repents and when that same child asks for forgiveness, then God acts like most parents would. God forgives. What parent can resist a child who comes running and crying with remorse and regret? Of course, the child receives forgiveness and the parent forgets about it in due time. Isn’t that right mom? Hmmmph.
How often has someone apologized to you, and you wave your hand and say, “Aw, forget about it man. No worries.”
The Bible says, “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” God hasn’t forgot about you however you may feel these days, but he no longer remembers your past. So, you should no longer relive or replay it as well.
Many people would say that Jill Price, the remarkable woman with the remarkable memory has superpowers. Her abilities certainly come in handy in her job as an administrative assistant at a law firm.
But often her memories arise unbidden, chaotic and unwelcome. She says, “Imagine being able to remember every fight you ever had with a friend, every time someone let you down, all the stupid mistakes you’ve ever made.”
And she remembers all this stuff.
God doesn’t. God forgets this stuff.
And we should, too.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.