Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Last week I ended the blog with the assertion that if we do not know our history, if we have lost our memory so to speak, then we will inevitably place God in the role of slave master or tyrant.
The reason for this, I assert, is that God wishes to recapitulate the story of salvation history in our very own lives. Like any great adventure story, this story is wrought with harrowing episodes and so if we don’t already know and are convinced of a victorious outcome, we will succumb to seeing God, not as the author of life, but as a tyrant bent on amusing Himself at our expense. If we do not remember where we have been, we will have no hope for where we are going.
Consider the following scenario. A hardworking man, discerning he is in need of a vacation, makes the prayerful decision to book a trip to Hawaii. He plans, works hard to put money aside for expenses, and looks forward to his time away. Finally, the big day arrives, and he eagerly runs to the garage to drive himself to the airport for his flight. His car refuses to start, however. The battery is dead. He chokes down the panic and sees that his neighbor is leisurely watering the front lawn. The man beckons to his neighbor, explains the situation and is overjoyed that the neighbor has agreed to ferry him to the airport.
Traffic is thicker than usual, and travel time is chewed up by various road constructions, police activity, and an accident. The man begins to doubt his ability to arrive on time for his flight and slowly he begins to interiorly grumble against the Lord: “Father, c’mon. I thought you wanted me to go on vacation. You know I need it! Why are you making it so hard?”
At last, the man arrives at the airport. Later than he desired, but undeterred, he hastily checks his bags and runs to security. The line takes forever. Now the man audibly doubts the Lord’s faithfulness: “C’mon Lord, don’t you love me?” Finally, the man reaches the security check point. He looks at the clock and calculates that he will need to run to his gate, but perhaps with a little luck, he will make his flight. Unfortunately, at the very last moment, the man realizes he packed his ID in the bag he checked. Security does not let him pass.
Demoralized and angry, the man finds his way home via a cab. He practically curses the Lord the entire way home: “Some god you are. You don’t care one iota about me.” Grumble, grumble.
That evening, however, while watching the evening news, the man’s grumbling changes into astonishment and then into thanksgiving and praise. He learns that flight 452 from Denver to Hawaii mysteriously went down over the ocean; there are no known survivors. Had he made it to the airport on time, he would now be counted among the dead.
As goofy and somewhat tragic as the scenario is, I can recognize myself in it. Often when things are not going my way, I refuse to remember that they are still going God’s way. I need to be reminded that God’s way is always the better way and that He works out all things for the good of those who believe (Romans 8:28). In my myopic self-centeredness I forget the story of my ancestors who faced fates worse than missing out on a vacation and who, through the faithfulness of God, came out on top time and time again. I forget to show a modicum of patience knowing that soon an event will occur that will cast the proper light on my current difficulty. This light will then re-interpret the difficulty of the present and it will be revealed as an opportunity for great glory.
The Holy Spirit, knowing my propensity to amnesia, reminds me time and time again. When I cooperate with these gentle (and sometimes not so gentle!) reminders, I begin to accept the great gift of hope that the Holy Spirit wishes to bestow on me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope as, “… placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). This word, “promise,” is of particular note in that a promise may be something not yet fulfilled. It could be understood as a check written to be cashed sometime in the future.
This is important because what I am getting at is that it is in remembering the past that I can have hope in the future. As strange as that sounds, it nevertheless makes sense. Consider a person plotting a course on a map. In order to be successful that person is going to need some solid data points. The first point is where the person is right now. That is indispensable. The next point a person needs is a destination point. That too is indispensable. In order for that destination point to be a desirable one however, something worthy of the trek, it is also indispensable to know where one has already been. Otherwise the traveler may simply find himself going in circles, participating in a cosmic rat race, so to speak, where one can make good time but never actually get anywhere worthwhile.
Put another way, the Holy Spirit reminds us of our past. In that recollection we are reminded of our brokenness, but also of God’s faithfulness. Then the Holy Spirit reveals to us the hand of God in our concrete present circumstances, and we see the faithfulness of God in the here and now. With these two points we can draw a trajectory into the future and reasonably conclude that since God was faithful in the past and is faithful in the present, I can trust Him to be faithful in the future. This is hope.
This hope changes the trajectory of the world, so stay close to the Spirit that bestows hope by reminding us of our past.