One of my favorite running routes is to start underneath the bridge between our FBC buildings, cross the river on the Gay Street bridge, follow the river along the One Riverwalk apartments, and then come back on the Henley bridge.
Recently I was running along the Henley bridge and noticed some interesting graffiti on one of the white light fixtures. It said, “The past is the past.” I ran along a little further and saw another message in the same handwriting. “What is done is done.”
As I ran, I wondered, “Is that really true? Is the past really the past?” On the one hand, I can recognize that a healthy mindset doesn’t live in the past. On the other hand, I can see how the past still very much shapes me and everything around me.
The Past Isn’t Really the Past
Today is the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It’s the only anniversary in American history that is simply known by a number. I can remember learning about the attacks like it was yesterday. Seeing the live image of the second plane hitting the building and the towers collapsing was frightening. I can only imagine what it would have been like on the inside.
A total of 2,753 people were killed in the tower and planes. Just a few days ago 2 victims were identified from DNA technology. For the families who lost loved ones, the past isn’t just in the past. It is a living reality of loss and grief. There have also been soldiers who lost their lives in the ensuing war, with many others still suffering from PTSD.
All of us are shaped by the events that happened in our past, both good and bad. This is why the word “remember” is so important in the Bible. That word is found 240 times in the Bible.
In Deuteronomy 32:7 (NIV), God says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
In a way, every time we gather on a Sunday for worship or a Wednesday evening for Bible study, we remember the old days and the old ways. We recall the ancient stories that speak to us still. “Remember the former things,” God says, “those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9, NIV).
Over and over we are told to call to mind what God has done and what God has promised to do.
I understand the need to let go of the past and not dwell excessively on the past — especially the times of failure, disappointment, and loss. But we would be foolish to forget some things, like the 9/11 attacks. It’s one thing to live in fear; it’s another thing to just want to put everything behind us and move on like nothing happened.
Today, let’s pray for the families who still grieve. Let’s pray for our nation — for security, compassion, and wisdom in international relations. Let’s remember to give thanks for first responders of all kinds.
Let It Go
Of course, I believe the intent of the graffiti was to say, “Don’t cling to the past so much.” It’s true that many people struggle with past memories of bad relationships, moral failures, and hard situations that can leave people feeling ashamed and even depressed.
There is a time to remember the past, but there is also a time to let things go.
This is what God gives a seemingly contradictory message just a few chapters before the above quoted Isaiah passage: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).
God had done many great things for the Hebrew people in the past, but now He calls them to look to the future. Even in a time of exile, God can make a way in the wilderness.
We need grace to let go of the past. We also need wisdom to know the things to remember and the things to forget. Fortunately God gives wisdom “generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5, NIV).
But there is one thing we should never let go of: our relationship with God.
Don’t Forget God
Just this morning, the Moravian Texts Bible Reading Plan pointed me to Psalm 106. It opens with a word of praise for all of the amazing things God has done. Then it recounts how God acted on behalf of the Hebrew people to forgive them of their sins, bring them out of bondage in Egypt, and part the Red Sea.
But verse 13 suggests that the people had short memories. “They soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold” (Psalm 106:13, NIV).
The people “forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles…and awesome deeds…” (Psalm 106:21, NIV).
Sometimes I forget what God has done for me. When trouble comes, I fail to bring to mind how God has helped me in the past. When I feel stressed out and overwhelmed, I forget to give praise. God could bless me in a dozen different ways on any given day, but if one thing goes wrong, I find myself complaining or even feeling anger toward God.
Remember this week that you have a Heavenly Father who loves you. You have a God who is mighty to save. God has promised to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 3:8, NIV).
God is doing some amazing things among us. We have had new members each week for the last few months and several baptisms — including two people baptized in the Tennessee River yesterday. We’re hosting a Getting Ahead class to help women work towards financial stability. Our children’s renovation is progressing well. I hear stories of people’s prayer lives being strengthened and how people are loving their neighbors.
Let’s not forget God whether we are up on the mountain or down in the valley. God deserves all the praise, and God is the One who will see us through.
Pastor Brent McDougal