Should We Forget Our Past? Philippians 3:13, 14

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George Washington statute vandalized and toppled in Portland, Oregon

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Should we forget our past? Today there are some in our society that think we should erase anything that might remind us of our nation’s sins and failings.

  • Statues are being toppled, vandalized, or taken down by officials! As of June 24th I counted 47 statues removed across the country, of Confederate leaders, founding fathers, famous explorers, US presidents, and others. Many more are planned to be peacefully removed. One famous stature called the Emancipation Statue depicting Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves is just 9/10 of a mile from the capitol building. Protesters have made the bold threat that they will forcibly remove the stature tonight (Thursday, June 25th) at 7 PM. A week ago protesters in Portland, Oregon vandalized a statue of George Washington, lighting a fire on its head before toppling it to the ground.
  • Under consideration are the renaming of military bases named after Confederate military leaders.
  • Schools and colleges, as well as streets, parks, and other places are also targeted for name changes.

But all these memorials, buildings, parks, and places are named after those who have risen to prominence in our United States history! Should we be reminded of our common past, even if it represents a dark time the country has experienced? We need some wisdom on this issue!

Does the Bible say anything on this subject? I am reminded of what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13 and 14:

     ...but one thing I do, forgetting those things which 
     are behind and reaching forward to those things which 
     are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of 
     the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

At first glance, it seems Paul is saying he is erasing from his memory all the wicked things he ever did! But elsewhere he calls attention to his terrible deeds before the Lord Jesus stopped him on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9:1-9).

  • In Galatians 1:13 he wrote, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
  • In Acts 22 the apostle gave his defense in Jerusalem to the Jewish crowd after his arrest for supposedly desecrating the temple. In verse 4 he stated, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women….
  • In Acts 26 Paul, held under arrest in Antipatris under the charge previously stated, again defended himself, this time before Governor Festus and King Agrippa. In verses 9 through 11 he refers to his Pharisaic persecutions of the church:
         Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things 
         contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This 
         I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints 
         I shut up in prison, having received authority 
         from the chief priests; and when they were put 
         to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I 
         punished them often in every synagogue and com-
         pelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly 
         enraged against them, I persecuted them even to 
         foreign cities.

The point is this: Paul did not forget his past! When it served his purpose, he would relate his sinful life in all itsgory,to shed light by contrast on his apostleship and labor for the Lord since his Damascus Road conversion! Also, it seemed to help him appreciate his life in Christ by calling to mind his former life with all its sins. I think that is why God also allows us to remember, even be reminded by things we encounter in everyday life, our past sinful life – so we can better appreciate where we are now as we more and more conform to our Lord Jesus!

There is One who forgets! In Hebrews 8:12 it is written, “…I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (See Hebrews 10:17 – see also the Gem Forgiven and Free – V from April 12, 2013). However, God has not given us that divine ability to forget. But when I think of my past life, my failures, sins, wrong choices, etc., I turn to Him and thank Him anew for delivering me from my past iniquities!

Now, would not these memorial statues, buildings, roads, parks, and places serve the same purpose?

  • No, it was not a pretty time when slavery was rampant.
  • Yes, there were slave owners even among our founding fathers.
  • Yes, the southern states rebelled and seceded from the union, and men and women served at the front. Courageous men fought for what they believed in. Confederate officers led their troops to preserve a terrible institution.

There was no perfect human being in our country’s history! And many terrible events happened – on individual as well as grand scales! But it is our history! And we can be reminded of that history and vow to do better now and in the future! But if we are not reminded…

…it is as Edmond Burke said:

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.