Selective Memory

Thanks for the memories

Memory is a remarkable capacity that we’ve been given. It certainly has its good side.

Our family’s photo albums and digital folders are enjoyable collections of memories. And when our children were growing up, at bedtime they’d often ask for a story. It amazed me how often I could stroll down memory lane and come up with a little episode from my childhood years.

The video “John in Exile” is a one-man play by Dean Jones. He gives a fascinating monologue depicting the aged apostle John on the Island of Patmos, just prior to receiving the Revelation. He testifies and reminisces for about 90 minutes, vividly and imaginatively describing his relationship with the Lord Jesus. After being blessed by this video, I was also struck by the amount of memory work this one-man play required of the actor. Such is the potential of the world’s best “computer,” which has been created by God and put into your cranium — your brain!

Alas, memory has its down side too. Many who have had severe trauma in the past with its painful images burned into their memory banks.

Filter the memories

It’s wise to filter what we choose to recall. One of the reasons for selective memory is freedom from guilt.

Take the apostle Paul, for instance. He had painful memories of moral failure. Saul had held the coats of those who stoned deacon Stephen, approving of his martyrdom (Acts 7:58). In his ignorant zeal, Paul had Christians arrested and tried, pressuring them to renounce their faith in Jesus (Acts 8:1-3).  Paul’s redemption would always be a reminder of the miraculous grace of God in his life (1 Tim. 1:12-17). It would also keep him humble before his fellow believers.

Yet Paul was wise enough to avoid the burdened of guilt.  It was false guilt because Paul’s sins were nailed to the cross of Christ; paid in full. This full pardon is the grace gift for every true believer in Christ! (Col. 2:13,14). To mope about with a guilty conscience or to do self-inflicted penance would not be a valid method of removing guilt. Instead, penance disrespects the total sufficiency of Christ’s atonement on Calvary.

Whose standards are higher, God’s or ours? God’s, of course!  So if

  • God the Father saw the travail of Christ’s atonement on Calvary and was “satisfied,” and
  • if the veil of the temple was truly ripped in two (signifying the gracious access of God’s people to His holy presence), and
  • if Christ was triumphantly raised from the dead, and since
  • the Savior breathed out, “it is finished,”

how could we ever add to His finished work? (Isaiah 53:10,11; Matt 27:51; Heb 6:19,20; John 19:30).

Remember how, in Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian found freedom from his guilt?  John Bunyan penned, “He ran until he came to a hill, and upon the hill stood a cross, and at the bottom was a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream that just as Christian came up to the cross, his burden was loosed from his shoulders and fell from his back and began to tumble, and continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.” [1]

To free yourself of residual guilt feelings, take God at His word, make restitution where necessary and possible (Luke 19:8), and look unto Jesus (John 6:47; Heb 12:2). Our joyful gratitude for God’s grace is a key to letting go of guilt.

As Paul resolved,

“and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which id from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,… Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:9,10,12-14).

Selective memory is a wonderful capability and a wise strategy for living.

Accentuate the positive

A positive discipline for constructive, selective memory is to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). To do this we need a Romans 8:28 perspective: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

A prominent business man sank into clinical depression and was hospitalized. After it was apparent that his condition was not changing with medical treatment, he eventually decided to pass the time by writing a thank you letter to someone who had helped him years before. That exercise brought some relief from his mental burdens, so he kept writing letters of gratitude. Before long this discipline cheered him so much that his weight lifted; he left the hospital free from his chronic depression! [2].

With such a great Savior, let us echo the words of the psalmist:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity…” (Psalm 103:1,2).

May God grant us wisdom to be good stewards of our memories and to review them selectively.

[1] Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, with notes by Warren Wiersbe, (Grand Rapids: Discover House, 1989), p.49.

[2] Story from the Institute in Basic Life Principles

Copyright © 2000, by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson). Italics in Scripture quotes are for added emphasis.


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