Some time ago, a young friend mentioned that she heard something in a sermon—a spiritual truth of some kind—that she had always known, yet had forgotten up until that point of hearing it again. She was disappointed in herself for forgetting, knowing that Satan delights in our tendency to forget God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word.
She might have thought she was alone in her difficulty, or maybe that she was just too young to have conquered it yet, but the truth is, we’re all victims of spiritual amnesia. How many times have you heard a sermon, read a devotional, sat in on Bible study, or received counsel from a friend in Christ, and thought to yourself, “I already knew this, but I had to be reminded of it yet again!” You might have felt discouraged, surprised, or frustrated that you had forgotten. You might have thought, “Why am I always forgetting this about God?”
Like sheep, we’re easily distracted from the truth and we constantly go astray. It’s part of our sin nature and it’s no surprise to God. He’s witnessed the spiritual amnesia of his people since the beginning. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly warns the Israelites to take care lest they forget the Lord their God. Later, the author of Psalm 119 repeatedly and pointedly declares that he will not forget God’s Word, his law, his works, his precepts, and more. In the New Testament, James says that “if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23, 24). I don’t know about you, but I often feel as if I’m that person looking in the mirror—I hear the Word, I hear the truth, I nod my head and feel sincerity in my heart, but then I go away and forget what I’ve heard. Again.
But I know I’m not alone in this forgetfulness. Think about it: Why do devotional books sell so well, year after year? Why do people keep going to church for five, six, seven or more decades when they surely are hearing many of the same ideas in sermons time after time? Why, if we’ve learned Bible stories and concepts even from young childhood, do we keep revisiting these same stories and ideas in Bible studies as adults? Why do we have to keep relearning God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word—over and over and over?
Here’s a very incomplete list of the truths that I forget in my daily life more often than I’d like to admit:
- … that I wasn’t made for this world—I was made to dwell with the Lord. This flawed world and all the flawed people in it are part of a creation waiting in tension for the return of Christ.
- … that I’m called to not worry or be anxious for the future, but instead to depend on God and trust him to supply my needs.
- … that as a Christian, I’m not going to escape suffering. In fact, Jesus promises that I’m going to suffer and that I should bear it gladly in order to share in the sufferings of Christ and bring glory to God.
- … that I’ll never find true fulfillment in life from my possessions, my job, my spouse, my children, my entertainment, or even in my good health or the good deeds that I do. My one, true, unshakable joy is found in God alone.
How often I forget these truths in the day-to-day stresses of life! How easy it is to let the cares of the world overcome my knowledge of God’s promises, his faithfulness, and his Word. Despite frequent time in the Bible, despite hearing more than 1,300 sermons (and counting) in my Christian life, despite attending and teaching countless Bible studies and Sunday school classes, I still need constant reminders of the spiritual concepts that truly sustain me and offer hope and certainty about my life, my purpose, and my ultimate destiny.
My need for these constant reminders brings me to what I’ve come to view as the hidden gift of spiritual amnesia. My forgetfulness won’t be easily overcome in this lifetime, but it does serve to drive me back to studying the Bible, back to sermons at church, back to daily devotionals, and back to conversations with Christian friends, over and over again. That’s something to be thankful for.
So like my friend at the beginning of this article, I know that Satan delights in our forgetfulness. But that’s not where this struggle ends. The hidden gift of spiritual amnesia is God’s own patience and kindness shown in the many ways he tirelessly reminds us of his promises, his faithfulness, and his Word. When our minds wander and we forget, he is gracious to provide continual reminders of the truths that we already know.