Introducing “Redeeming Memory”

Formaldehyde wafted through the air. A white-haired man with a lab coat and large-framed glasses instructed us to unlatch our metal tanks. As the doors swung open, we made the rite of passage into medicine and met death. As a first-year medical student, I began to encounter the ironies of medicine. The foundation of medical practice, which works to preserve life, started with an examination of preserved death. A mistake here in the anatomy lab on the dead would be exceedingly safer than a mistake on the living.

The anatomy textbook sat on a stand at the end of my station propped open to the first page. The scalpel unzipped the body and unzipped the emotions of excitement mingled with questions. In a preservation of humanness, our group left the face covered as we worked. The initial awe of anatomy was soon replaced by the academics of anatomy. Page one now turned into page one hundred. The lessons focused on identification of structures: nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, muscles, and bones.

The day finally arrived to study the brain, the mysterious three-pound organ that housed the memories. The identity of structures jolted into thoughts about the identity of the cadaveric person. The face remained covered, but questions inundated my mind about her. What was she like? What did she believe? Whom did she influence? Does anyone remember her? The use of my memory to retain facts about the human body helped me see something deeper: the significance of memory to a person’s identity.

I did not fully grasp the significance of memory in the anatomy lab until death interjected into my personal life. It is one thing to examine the death of an unknown cadaver but quite another to reflect upon the deaths of my dad, mom, and two sisters. Their sudden deaths in a car accident prompted a wrestling with memory and its meaning. This book resulted from my study on memory and what the Bible has to say about it. Memory is important in the Christian life both in its proper function but also in its corruption.

This book is written for Christians who suffer knowingly or unknowingly from the heavy burdens of memory. These burdens, like bitterness or shame, afflict you with seemingly endless reverberations in your thoughts. Do you ever wonder if the vicious cycle will ever end? Will the repeating loops ever be broken? Perhaps you are like me and did not recognize the influence of memory in these unrelenting miseries. This book examines memory through the prism of the gospel to find hope in the midst of misery. Through God’s redemptive plan, memory transforms from a millstone to a milestone. God removes the burdens of memory and enlivens hope in His redemption.

Some may object to using the Bible as the primary source to examine memory. Shouldn’t memory be addressed from a scientific viewpoint? Part of my interest in this topic originated from my background in science and medicine as an emergency medicine physician. Throughout the book, the science of memory will be introduced but will coincide with, and not contradict, biblical truth. God designed human memory and knows how best to utilize it for His good purposes.

Biblical memory is a neglected topic in current Christian literature, but God provided gleanings from sermons and books in my research. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress gives an illustration of the main character, Christian, and his companion, Hopeful, in their journey that detours to Doubting Castle. Augustine shows that even though he lived in the fourth century, his book Confessions applies to the twenty-first century. Puritan preachers like Richard Sibbes (1577– 1635), Anthony Burgess (1600– 1633), Thomas Watson (1620– 1686), Jonathan Edwards (1703– 1758), among others, provide a depth and breadth on the mind of God that inspires a desire to think deeply. This book draws from the fearless curiosity of C.S. Lewis as he asks difficult questions. Finally, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834– 1892) contributes with his insightful observations and analogies. Even still, all of these wise men were guided by, and bend the knee to, the authority of Scripture, the only true infallible source of wisdom.

I seek to build a framework for memory on the familiar structure of the gospel. The book is organized into two sections to address present memory followed by future remembrance.

In the first section, I define memory from a scientific and theological standpoint. God’s perfect memory and the creation account establish the original purpose for memory: to glorify and worship God. Next, the fall of Adam and Eve inaugurates the corruption of human memory that bends away from glorifying God to glorifying self. After examining the ways human memory harms, hope springs. God redeems human memory through Christ who was forsaken at the cross and remembered at the resurrection. The next chapters examine God’s provisions and promises to help transform memory through the Holy Spirit and end with the hope-filled effects of a redeemed memory.

The second section shifts to future remembrance and its burdens with fears of futility and insignificance; however, God restores future remembrance to Him. The book concludes with the hope of redemptive remembrance and its present effects on earth and future effects in heaven. We will trace memory from the garden of Eden in Genesis to the halls of heaven in Revelation. The big arc of redemption applies to the personal story of each reader with profound implications of hope.

Just like in medicine, a foundation in the classroom prepares for application in the hospital. Human anatomy class, study of the dead, is the first step towards the practice of medicine, care for the living. I hope the study of memory will lead to practical application in God-glorifying daily living.

Excerpted from Redeeming Memory: How God Transforms Memories from a Heavy Burden to a Blessed Hope by Matt Rehrer, now available from Shepherd Press

Shepherd Press