Summary: Knowing the Bible helps us remember how to navigate through life issues, how to interpret what is happening in our lives, and how to find hope in bleak times.
At the very end of the longest chapter of the Bible, 176 verses about God’s word, comes this stout declaration, “I do not forget your commandments.” “I do not forget your commandments.”
That is a tall order, to promise that you will not forget. How can you promise that you will not forget? That’s more than most of us can live up to. We do forget things, regularly and frequently. We forget appointments, we forget to do chores, we forget other people’s names – I can look out among you right now and see folks whom I have known quite a few years, and if you were to ask me at just the wrong moment, I’d forget your name. If you don’t think that’s true of me, just ask my wife “Martha”!
What causes forgetfulness? I hear this happens in old age. When I get there I’ll let you know about it, if I can remember where you are. I know it happens with young people who forget to do their homework on lovely spring days. There is also such a thing as selective memory, which allows us to block out painful things. What causes forgetfulness?
Amnesia is a disorder in which the brain just goes on “hold” and won’t work, and the person who suffers with amnesia forgets all sorts of things and lives out in nowhere. Amnesia means that you do have some basic skills – you can walk and talk and do things that you learned early in life, but everything else is hazy. Most of what you need to know in order to function is hidden. It must be tough to have amnesia and not remember anything useful.
There is spiritual amnesia, too, you know. There is spiritual amnesia, not remembering what it is to live in God’s presence, forgetting what God has done, failing to “get it” when God is calling you. Spiritual amnesia is forgetting the ultimate things of life – not remembering who you are and whose you are; forgetting how to communicate with your creator; losing the way when you want to move ahead with life issues. The Psalmist declared, “I do not forget your commandments.” How could he make that promise? How could he guarantee that he would avoid spiritual amnesia?
At a nursing home where I used to visit, there was a lady who had left her native Russia when she was about nine years old. She had learned English and had stopped using her first language completely. Her daughter told me that before her mother came to the nursing home she had forgotten her Russian. The daughter said, “When I asked my mom if she could teach me a few words and phrases in Russian, she couldn’t do it. She had forgotten it entirely.” But in these late years of her life, in the nursing home, amnesia had set in, and she couldn’t remember her name, she couldn’t remember her daughter, and she couldn’t remember her English.” Amnesia. But guess what came back to her? The Russian language! And so she lived in her private world, speaking a language she had not used for more than eighty years.
Doesn’t that tell us something? Doesn’t that tell us that even if we get a bad case of amnesia, the things our minds have absorbed, early on, are going to stay with us? Doesn’t that suggest that what is put into our minds, early and often, is critical? How could the Psalmist avoid spiritual amnesia? How could he promise the Lord, “I do not forget your commandments?” If you were to read the entire 119th Psalm, you would find that over and over again the Psalmist speaks of reading God’s word, meditating on God’s precepts, taking delight in God’s commandments, knowing God’s decrees. The Psalmist’s secret for avoiding spiritual amnesia is that he was a disciple. He was a learner. He repeatedly exposed himself to God’s truth, so that he would know it, live by it, and never forget it.
Ours is to be a disciple-making church. A critical part of our work is to teach the Bible. To whom do we teach it? Not just to children, but to all persons, all ages. How do we teach the Bible? We teach it not just as an academic exercise, where you ask, “So what’s in the Bible?”, but as a guide to life, where you ask, “So what do I do with the Bible?” Our task is to make the precepts of the Bible as lively on the playground as they are in the classroom and as vibrant in the workplace as they are in the sanctuary. Ours is to be a disciple-making church.
I invite you to probe into the Psalmist’s experiences and find out precisely what he did not forget. What resources came to him because he had engaged God’s word, so that he could avoid spiritual amnesia?