“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” is a song written by country music artist Alan Jackson in the wake of the September 11 attacks. All of us who were alive in September 2001 remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. I remember standing in the conference room of the church where I was serving, watching the images of commercial airplanes flying through a clear, cool New York sky and into the towers of the World Trade Center.
As I sit here writing this article on September 11, 2012, I am reminded of how important it is to remember. Remembering is important to society because as Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish statesman said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” History is important for the sake of remembering, of maintaining a firm grip on the past.
Remembering is an equally important concept in Scripture, because it contains the story of God condescending to reveal Himself to man through actual historical events. God remembered Noah in the ark, in Genesis 8:1, and remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, in Exodus 2:24. Then God commanded Israel to “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt,” when instituting the passover in Exodus 13, and to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” when giving the moral commands of Exodus 20. At least 15 times God calls His people to remember in the book of Deuteronomy. Throughout the Old Testament, the waywardness of Israel is tied to their failure to remember.
Jesus constantly called His disciples to remember, and instituted the ordinance of the Supper by commanding us to “Do this in remembrance of me,” as we eat and drink. If we do not remember, we run the risk of becoming myopic, proud, self-sufficient, and eventually incurring our own destruction. The danger is not necessarily physical destruction, but rather a complete loss of identity, purpose, and meaning, or what Amos refers to as a “famine of hearing the Word of the Lord.”
A key scripture passage for understanding the importance of remembrance is Isaiah 46:8-11, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” Two major thoughts arise from these verses.
First, God is sovereign, or absolutely in control. History is in the most literal sense His story. Nothing happens at random or by chance. The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the details of our lives are threads in the great tapestry of His overarching providential plan.
Second, we as human beings cannot understand our place in the world without cultivating a vision of ourselves as part of this larger story. This is why the Bible contains so many exhortations to “remember” what God has done in the past, whether through the device of “memorial stones,” annual festivals, tassels, phylacteries, or the discipline of hiding His Word in our hearts.
Here we come face to face with the implications of man’s fallen nature. Man resists the idea of a sovereign God. He wants to control his own destiny, live inside his own little story, and free himself from all connections to an all-inclusive divine plan. He devises ways to propagate the deception of self-determination by taking the larger story of history into his own hands and turning it into a powerful tool for the manipulation of other people and the accomplishment of his own selfish purposes.
Historical revisionism operates on the basis of the premise, “If I can change your historical context, I can determine the way you view the present.” This strategy is consistent with George Orwell’s observation that “He who controls the past controls the future” and Karl Marx’s dictum, “A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.” Postmodernism, the contemporary philosophical perspective that rejects both revelation and reason, takes this process to an extreme conclusion by denying the validity of all comprehensive truth systems, including Christianity.
Remembering gives us a proper appreciation of historical context, our place in God’s “larger story.” It is fundamental to an accurate understanding of almost every aspect of our lives. History provides us with indispensable insights into the meaning of existence, God’s plan and purpose for the ages, man’s responsibility toward the Creator, and his duty toward his fellow creatures.
Stated simply, the postmodern perspective maintains that there is no larger story. Instead, everyone must tell his own story and invent his own concept of meaning and significance. In other words, history does not exist at all except as it exists in our own minds, where it can be edited and tailored to further our own goals in the present. But this idea does not resonate in our souls, because we have a faith that is based on objective truth, and the historical events surrounding the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. This perspective is not compatible with reality, because you do remember where you were when the world stopped turning on that September day.