In this post, we look at what happens when we forget God’s love, and how we may be restored to relationship with our Father in Heaven.
Deep Wisdom from Kindergarten
A kindergarten teacher asks the kindergartners: “What happens when we forget that God loves us?”
The kindergartners respond, “We sin!”
The teacher is helping the little ones understand the mindset conducive to sin: forgetfulness of whose we are and who we are.
When we lose sight of our identity as God's beloved children, which flows from our relationship with the God who is love, we tend to fall into sin.
The word “fall” is used intentionally because that’s what it’s like: sin has a certain gravity that pulls us down into the pit whenever we let go of our relationship with God and forget who we are.
Children give us a good example of this. I've noticed that little children tend to act up more when they are not receiving the attention from Mom and Dad that they long for. If they are not being affirmed in their parents' love, they get rebellious. They'll take any attention they can get whether it's good or bad. Are we like that, too? Do we tend to "act out" when we have forgotten or seriously doubted the love of God?
|Copyright 2016 by R. L. Drake|
My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. His mental, physical, and emotional degeneration was tragic.
Granddad reached a point where he couldn’t remember my grandmother, his beloved wife of over fifty years, or any of his children. Granddad sometimes forgot who he was, too, his own identity seemingly lost in some dark closet of his brain.
On my visits, he often mistook me for my father, which was a bit awkward as he was not fond of my dad at all. He would say, gruffly, “Hello, Bob.” I found it best to just play along, because when corrected, he sometimes got agitated. So I’d respond with a hearty, friendly, “Hiya, Tom,” and hope for the best.
And yet, whenever he saw my little girl (now grown), he lit up and called her by name. It was amazing to see that recognition. Her face brought clarity to his mind, if only for a moment. Somehow, he would remember.
As I get older, I get nervous when I forget things. (The truth is, I’ve always been a little spacey! I have misplaced keys and papers for as long as I can recall). I worry that I will get the disease and forget myself, my family, and my friends.
When We Forget
The Israelites had memory issues, too. They had a tendency to forget who they were, and whose they were. After grand theophanies in which God would reveal his presence and do amazing deeds in their midst, they would be devoted to the Lord for a time, and then forget him, at least in practice. Consequently, they would also forget who they were. Then they would get themselves into all kinds of trouble.
The Israelites loved God, and they knew he loved them. Their very faith celebrated this reality. After all, God had said, “You will be my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). But they tended to be forgetful. They sometimes forgot his warnings: “But if you do forget the Lord, your God, and go after other gods, serving and bowing down to them, I bear witness to you this day that you will perish utterly” (Deuteronomy 8:19).
|Copyright 2016 by R. L. Drake|
At different points in their history, the Israelites replaced their allegiance to the Lord with the worship of “foreign gods,” the gods of the pagan tribes they shared land with, or of the lands they were exiled to. They forgot the covenant they shared with the Lord, which was their greatest source of security. They sacrificed to these pagan “gods” and made a mockery of their own religion by their misdeeds (cf. Deuteronomy 4:23, 8:19).
This is the narrative of the entire Old Testament. It’s a love story gone bad. And then good again, and then bad again, and so on.
Sometimes we Christians struggle with our own form of spiritual memory loss. We forget who God is, and so we begin to forget who we are. We replace God with gods of our own making: wealth, security, status, relationships, human respect, success, and so on. When these “gods” let us down, we find ourselves lost and confused. We become disoriented.
An acquaintance told me that on a motorcycle course his friend was counseled, “Don’t look where you don’t want to go!” When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we seem to do all right. When we forget Jesus and focus on other “gods,” we risk getting off course, sometimes tragically.
There’s that wonderful scene in the Lion King in which Simba, heir to the throne, fully grown physically, but not quite ready to take his place in the adult world, encounters the reflection of his deceased father, Mufasa, in the pond. His father emerges from the clouds above, and his deep, guttural voice lovingly but authoritatively commands his son, “Remember who you are. Rememmmberr!”
Simba would not become an adult until he claimed his identity as the Lion King, which carried not only privilege but responsibility. The only way to claim his identity was to acknowledge his filial relationship with his father.
Our true identity comes from our filial relationship with God.
In fact, two of the most important questions we will ever ask ourselves may be: Who am I? Who is my God?
In a certain sense, the Israelites were relegated to spiritual childhood until they could truly claim their identity as God's Beloved People. They struggled to be who they were meant to be, day in and day out (as we do, too). As a result of sin, they experienced slavery, serious family dysfunction, humiliating defeats in battle, and exile from the land they loved. They lived the life of the Prodigal Son. They did what we tend to do. They wandered far from God, into “distant countries” (cf. Luke 15:13). They squandered their inheritance. They found it impossible to be faithful to the covenant. It must have seemed that there could be no hope for restoration.
Until the Lord sent the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, in whom God would offer a new covenant, once and for all.
By baptism, we entered into this new covenant. We became adopted sons and daughters of God.
In Jesus, we know whose we are and who we are. We are God’s, we are His children.
Whether we have come to Jesus for the first time or have returned to him through the sacrament of Reconciliation following a painful sojourn into the “distant country,” we can be assured that when we are in friendship with Jesus Christ, we share in his filial relationship with God the Father.
But there’s another aspect to the story of forgetfulness. That of God's forgetfulness.
When we repent of our sins and turn back to the Lord with all our hearts, he casts our sins behind his back (cf. Isaiah 38:17). It can even be said that he “forgets” our transgressions: “It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Isaiah 43:25, NABRE). He always took Israel back. His love never faltered. And this is true for us, as well.
The sacrament of Reconciliation restores the relationship we neglected in our forgetfulness. And when our sins are absolved, God effectively remembers them no more.
With the psalmist we can pray, “But I trust in your mercy. Grant my heart joy in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6, NABRE)!
God’s mercy is so much greater than our sins.
That’s something very important to remember.