“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV).
I am frequently asked whether I know someone in Nepal, Bangladesh, or India. Often I can answer yes and recall events which were shared with those persons. But sometimes, though the name may be somewhat familiar, I must admit that I do not really have any substantial memory of the person. I don’t really know them at all. The same is true of specific events such as gospel meetings or seminars which were held several years previously. Similar occasions tend to blend together so that I may be confused over what was done and who was involved in a particular instance.
Recently my wife and I have been going through boxes and albums of old family pictures from several different sources involving different branches of our family trees. Most of those pictures have no accompanying “documentation”; that is there are no names, dates, or places written on their backs or other paperwork giving that information. Though many of the pictures are of people whom we recognize, others are not. There is little that is more frustrating than to find a picture from 50 to 100 years ago of someone or something that cannot be identified. Is he or she a relative? Is that house a former residence of a grandparent? Or is it just a casual snapshot of someone we never knew or knew of and that has no importance to us now?
I have become impressed with the importance of the memories attached to those pictures. Without memory (information as to who or what was photographed, and when and where the pictures were taken) the pictures lose considerable value. With the information provided by memory that old snapshot brings me once again into the presence of “Mama” (My mother’s mother) or “Granddaddy” (my father’s father) and I can review other incidents and occasions of our lives together. Similarly old pictures help earlier generations whom I never knew become real persons to me. For example the picture at the top of this article is of my maternal great-grandmother. Until we found it in those old boxes I had never seen a picture of her.
Peter shows the same regard for Christians’ memories of the facts and doctrines of Christianity. Earlier in his life his mission was to preach the gospel to new audiences, converting sinners and establishing churches. At the time of this writing however he is (probably) confined to prison in Rome anticipating his death by execution in the near future. There are few new audiences available to him to confront with his message. But there is now another mission: to remind young growing Christians of the truths previously learned so as to encourage their faithful service and continued spiritual growth.
The Hebrew writer tells of the consequences that occur when one’s memory of these things fades.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food” (Hebrews 5:11-12).
Those who do not continue to study and learn, consolidating their understanding of and commitment to spiritual truth, will eventually lose what they once knew. Almost anyone who has had a year or two of study of a language, but has not continued to learn and use that language, will understand this principle. “Use it or lose it” applies in all arenas of human experience, from physical skills to technical know-how to spiritual principles.
Our acquired “memories” of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and of his teaching about how we may please God and achieve salvation (and all of the precious teachings of Scripture) are essential components of our faith. Do not allow an occasional Bible story to be your only connection to God’s word. There is a real danger that eventually you will hear of “David and Goliath” or “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and wonder what relevance those old “pictures” have for you. That will be tragic.