Growing up mostly in the 1980’s, I will admit that I watched a lot of television. And once we eventually got cable, my sisters and I especially enjoyed reruns from the 1960’s—Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, I Dream of Jeannie, The Addam’s Family. A common trope in so many shows from that time period (and continuing into future decades) was amnesia. One of the characters would suffer a blow to the head and find themselves stricken with severe memory loss. It was comedically tragic and miraculously healed by the end of the half-hour episode, often with a new head trauma incident which would reverse the condition.
We may not ever suffer from actual amnesia in our lifetimes—only 1.8% of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the condition, which I’m sure is not nearly as funny as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island made it out to be—but we may still find ourselves with an acute case of forgetting.
We see this idea of spiritual amnesia over and over in the stories of the Bible. God would come through for His People in majestic ways (think parting of the Red Sea), then they would get their heads turned and hearts altered by the idol-worshipping nations nearby and they would forget who God was. It was like they got clubbed in the noggin with popular pagan culture resulting in national amnesia. After a period of time, God would send a judge or a prophet or a conquering army, and they’d get hit again and feel bad about how they had turned their backs on God. They would cry out to God for help and start the whole thing over again. We can find a good summary of this process in the 2nd chapter of the book of Judges.
“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel… They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth. This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them… Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers… Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.”
I wish I could say that this forgetful behavior went out of style with the end of the Old Testament, but it’s just as prevalent as ever. Tell me if this sounds familiar: We’re just tootling around and everything’s going pretty well for us, so we start forgetting who spins the planets and convince ourselves of our own divinity. We have a bout of spiritual amnesia. Then something bad happens—tragedy strikes—and we cry out for deliverance. We realize that we’re not God after all and that we really need Him. The word remember is used 231 times in the Bible, and for good reason. We need reminding. And I, for one, would rather the gentle remonstration from the Scriptures instead of a painful conk on the head.