Memorializing the Past, A Practice in Remembering God’s Goodness
When Israel crossed the Jordan River led by the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, not one Jewish foot got wet (Joshua 3:17). Safely reaching the other side, Joshua, following the LORD’s command, had a monument set up. Twelve stones, one for each tribe, were set up as a memorial to God’s protection of His people Israel (Joshua 4:1-7). Memorials are important. Remembering the goodness of God or courage of patriots reminds us that we didn’t get where we are by ourselves that we have God to thank and others to remember gratefully.
In the United States, we recently observed Memorial Day. Besides being a gateway to summer activities, Memorial Day is a day marked by parades and speeches. Flags and flowers are placed on the graves of many servicemen. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the Civil War Dead. Now, it remembers all of those who died in the wars our nation has fought. It’s good to remember such things.
Many nations have similar holidays, when the national heroes are remembered. If the Soviet Empire was good at anything, it was the erection of statues and monuments. Heroic statues dominated parks and corners in the most far-flung corners of the Soviet Union and its various puppet states.
This is not necessarily the case all over the world. In fact, the Tradewinds, a West Indian musical group, laments the lack of heroic remembrances of the past in a song titled, “Where Are Your Heroes, Caribbean?” Heroes are good things.
When my wife and I travel to Budapest, Hungary, one of the sights I like to visit is the Szoborpark, “The Statue Park,” a small resting place for monuments of the Soviet era. The statues, torn down and removed from their former places of prominence, serve now as stark reminders of a dark past in a nation struggling to overcome the results of domination, not only of the Soviets, but of numerous occupations by foreign conquerors. A large statue of Vladimir Illyich Lenin towers over the entrance to the park, just as Lenin loomed large over the lives of so many in the extensive empire of the Soviet Union.
One might argue that statues of Soviet heroes constitute religious art, or even iconography. That by keeping these relics, the nation is merely keeping alive the memory of their Soviet masters. I, for one, think that the Hungarians have done a brave and wonderful thing by keeping these statues as a reminder of a dark and vicious time in their history.
God's Word tells us that we need to remember the past. In fact the word “remember” is used more than 230 times in Scripture. Granted, most of those references refer to remembering the Covenant and the goodness of God. But some are historical references, which bid us to remember the dark days. For instance:
Deuteronomy 24:22 teaches, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 25:17 advises, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 32:7 says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
The Apostle Paul instructs us, in Ephesians 2:12, to remember that we “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”
History has meaning, and we abandon it at our own peril. A society is well-served which is reminded of its own atrocities as well as those perpetrated upon it. A nation should properly commemorate its accomplishments as well as its flights into plain old national airheadedness. Christians, especially, should have no problem embracing the idea that history is the glorious tracing of the goodness of God — in our lives and in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, we should tear down the "high things," those idols to which we often give our obeisance. They often take less concrete a form than statues, however. Sometimes we are our own idols, or we pay homage to such things as education, good looks, and lineage (including church lineage!). Such idols need to be taken off the altar of our hearts and replaced with service to the One, True God. There are things that we should remember, however. Our collective heritage should be remembered. Our wars, our societal strife, our outrage, and our servitude should not be erased from our memories. Just as God’s Word looks back at the history of Israel — its good days and the bad ones — we should note the days of old. They are what helped to mold us. They are lessons in godliness and godlessness.
It's entirely appropriate that the citizens of Hungary maintain the statue park. It is good for them to remember the evil things of the past along with their wonderful cultural and historical heritage. It is also appropriate that the statue park should be located in a far corner of the city which is wind-swept and difficult to reach. Remembering is good, but it doesn't have to be in your face.