The Value of Memory
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
We live in a society that is infatuated with progress. Ever since the Enlightenment, the belief in humanity’s ability to gradually improve the world generation by generation has shaped our cultural conversations. Progress appears in our celebration of modern science to bring “salvation” from the pandemic (the word literally used by prominent figures), and in the basic belief that humanity is capable of becoming ever more awake to the injustices in our world (with scarce acknowledgement that we humans are the reason those injustices exist in the first place). It seems we have a remarkable confidence that we might be able to reach heavenly perfection through our own efforts.
This presents problems for a Christian mindset. As Richard Bauckham notes, 'the Enlightenment hope of a utopian future for history was a secularization of Christian hope. Most significantly it abandoned transcendence, trusting instead in the immanent possibilities of the historical process itself.' Indeed, as Christians, whilst we look forward to the future hope of the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth, it is not just a future we are hoping for, it is the future culmination of an event that happened over 2,000 years ago in Palestine through the incarnation, life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Looking back, remembering, is important in the Christian faith – our worship services centre around a remembering in the Holy Communion – one of Christ’s final commandments was 'do this in remembrance of me' (Luke 22:19); Israel is continually encouraged to 'remember' the historic faithfulness of God (Deuteronomy 6:12); and scripture suggests blessing comes through 'the memory of the righteous' (Proverbs 10:7).
Despite this emphasis on remembering, our hopes in the possibilities of the next generation mean we often forget the value of memory. We forget that whilst young people have new ideas, hopes and dreams for a better world, the older people in our midst have seen a lot of those hopes and dreams before, have learnt from them, and may just have something valuable to offer.