Selective Memory

Thanks for the memories

Memory is a remarkable capacity that we’ve been given. It certainly has its good side. Our photo albums and digital directories are an enjoyable collection of family memories for us. 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.

Have you seen the video “John in Exile”? It’s 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 speaks and reminisces for about 90 minutes, vividly and imaginatively describing his relationship with the Lord Jesus. After being blessed by the scriptural content and its inspiring message, 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 in 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

How can we be filter what we choose to recall? One reason for being selective 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, he had Christians arrested and tried to make them renounce their faith (Acts 8:1-3). This 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 refuse to be burdened with false guilt. False? Because Paul’s sins were nailed to the cross of Christ; paid in full–just like ours, as true believers 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 “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him [Christ on the cross], and if He saw the travail of His soul and was satisfied,” 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, how could we ever add to His finished work? When the Savior breathed out, “it is finished,” He meant it! (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? “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. It is also 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” (Psalm 103:1,2).

May God grant us wisdom to be good stewards of our memories and to rehearse 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 http://www.iblp.org

Copyright 2000, by John Woodward. 2nd edition. Permission is granted to reprint for noncommercial use if credit is given to the author and GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson). Italics in Scripture quotes are for added emphasis.


Honorable Mention
An intriguing book on creationism and Genesis 1: The Age of the Universe: What are the Biblical Limits? by Gorman Gray. Available on Amazon Kindle and via his web site: AgeoftheUniverse.com

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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