“Never forget where you came from!” I’ve heard this phrase in movies, read it in books, and many of us have even received this admonition from elder family members. It’s not just heritage and history; it’s also about understanding the journey of how we got to here from there, and the hardships, challenges and adversity in between.
So it’s disheartening to learn many Americans are virtually ignorant of foundational facts about our country. I’ve seen reports about college students that know virtually nothing about history – the American Revolution or why it was fought; who was engaged in the Civil War; who were the participants in World War II, or even the source of famous quotations. When asked who had made the statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” a number of young people were convinced it must have been a Republican. (I hope you know it was President John F. Kennedy, very much a Democrat.)
“But history is so…yesterday,” I imagine some might complain. “Why dwell on the past? This is today – we need to concentrate on shaping the future.” Yet philosopher and writer George Santayana wisely observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can’t learn from our mistakes if we’re unable or unwilling to remember what we did.
There’s also a positive way of looking at it: We need to remember the hard work and sacrifices made, the blood, sweat and tears shed in pursuit of noble goals that helped get us to where we’ve come, individually and as a society. Sadly, we care less and less about such things.
Remembering is a recurring theme in the Scriptures. Shortly before his death, preparing to pass the baton for leading the Israelites to Joshua, his protégé, Moses sought to urge the people of Israel not to forget the works of God in their past. “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past,” he said. “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
Then Joshua, King David, King Solomon and the prophets frequently hearkened to the past to remind Israel of the wonders God had done for them and urged them to remain faithful to Him. Sadly, the Israelites’ memories wavered repeatedly, often with disastrous consequences.
The night before His crucifixion, Jesus Christ had a Passover meal with His closest followers, what we refer to as “the Last Supper.” As He broke the bread and shared the wine, Jesus was establishing what churches around the world observe as Holy Communion. “This do in remembrance of Me,” He said (Luke 22:19).
Underscoring the magnitude of that moment, the apostle Paul reminds us of it in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25. Christ is no longer on the cross, but we dare not forget what He did for us, the price He paid, giving His own life as the perfect and permanent atonement for our sins. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Whether we’re seeking to chart the course of our nation; reflecting on past generations within our family lineage; or thinking about our immediate family, where we are now and where we once were, this remembrance principle is critical. Many times, the key to discerning where we’re going is recalling where we’ve been – and what it required to get us from there to here. This is especially true for our lives spiritually.