The Land of Forgetfulness
“Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave,…
or thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”
The Bible is not a random collection of old books! It is one book inspired by the same source ~ the
Living God ~ and is held together by Divine themes that intertwine and extend throughout. I’ve had
a love affair with the Bible for more than half a century now, and sometimes feel as though I’ve only
just begun to discover its redeeming value!
Sometimes, I imagine that the Bible is in conversation with itself ~conversations inspired by the One
who gifts the Bible to all who dwell upon the earth. For example, in the text before us, the psalmist
raises a timeless question to God, Is thy steadfast love declared in the grave? and the answer comes
with gospel gladness on Easter morning, No! My steadfast love is declared with an empty tomb, and
by a Risen and Living Lord!
Again the psalmist, emboldened, asks: Shall thy righteousness be declared in the land of
forgetfulness? And this time there is stillness ~an awkward spiritual silence ~ and then the words
come carefully measured, Yes! My righteousness is declared even in a land of forgetfulness, but only
when my followers live in Remembrance of Me ~ refusing to forget!
The haunting phrase for me is the psalmist’s description of the greatest threat to human freedom:
that we who live in the land of the free and the home of the brave will take that freedom for granted
and forget the price that was paid for it.
I watched the fall of Afghanistan this week, and saw images that my mind will never be able to erase,
and heard cries for help my heart will never be able to assuage. I felt a spiritual kinship with those
who struggled to be free, and my soul trembled! And I began to question in this way:
Are we living in what the psalmist called a land of forgetfulness? Is it possible to forget the price we
paid for liberty elsewhere (in Afghanistan) without at once forgetting the price that was paid for
liberty here (in America)? Could it be that if we are indeed a land of forgetfulness that the fall of
America, like the fall of Afghanistan, is but a heartbeat away?
How long is it between wars? I wondered, ~ between the end of one international conflict and the
beginning of another? I took into consideration economic factors ~ you know, the realization that
the best way out of an economic depression is to go to war. And political considerations ~ as in, one
way to unite a nation divided is to define a common enemy, even if one has to be created. Then, of
course, I imagined the globalists who consider the world as their chessboard and nations as pawns,
often funding both sides of every war to perpetuate their own power.
But after blaming the cycles of war on everybody but myself, the truth of the matter eventually
settled in. The distance between wars is the time it takes for a people to forget the horrors of the last
war. The distance between wars is the time it takes for me to forget ~ or become indifferent to ~ the
horrors of the last war. And the words of the psalmist came drifting back in my thoughts, for even
the righteousness of God can no longer be declared in the land of forgetfulness!
The truth confronting this week is ever the same: Whenever We The People forget the price of
freedom, we are called upon to pay that price again, and in greater measure. Whenever we forget
the horrors of war, we are drawn inevitably into that nightmare all over again. For the victory of war
is not only on the battlefield, but in the grateful hearts of those who remember with gratitude the
cause for which their compatriots had the courage to fight and the selflessness with which they died.
I am concerned that we live in a land of forgetfulness ~ a place where prosperity erases the pain of
sacrifice, a place where comfort generates apathy, indifference, and selfishness, a place where
subsequent generations cancel the culture that blessed them and rewrite our history to justify their
own imagined outcomes. It is as though we are a people who are intentionally trying to forget the
price that was paid for our freedom.
I used to imagine that we as a civilization emerged from barbarism thousands of years ago, and that
the great strides we have all made to be civilized with one another could not be easily undone. But
the savagery unleashed in Afghanistan is all the evidence we need that the barbarism from which we
emerged is only the blink of an eye away if we forget the price that was paid for freedom!
The German poet, playwright, novelist, statesman, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once reminded the
ages that None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. And we
move from a land of forgetfulness to a land of self-deceptions, of illusions, of false narratives.
Consider some of the other headlines of the week and pause to realize that women who accept sexual
harassment in the workplace are not free. Minorities who settle for second-class citizenship or lower
expectations for performance and achievement are not free. People who allow themselves to be
victimized by the injustices of society are not free. Those who allow their opinions to be silenced by
the relentless attacks on free speech by social media, by corporate strategies and political agendas
to silence alternate narratives, are not free.
Yet we perpetuate the social illusion that we are indeed a land where all are free ~ yet some of us
enjoy freedom more than others. Clearly, the price that was paid for the freedom of all of us is yet
to be realized by many of us, making it all the more important that we do not allow ourselves to
become a land of forgetfulness ~ a land where far too many are forgotten!
Yet this also is true. Whether we be forgetful or self-delusional, freedom is the spiritual experience
of God that can be awakened, and once awakened it cannot be silenced. Consider this:
One free-spirited life set loose in an oppressive society, and the public consensus moving in one
direction begins to move in another! Programmed attitudes and institutionalized responses are
completely undone by one free-thinking individual who imagines unique solutions and advances
powerful ideas. Such uniqueness will always be deemed to be controversial, unenlightened, radical,
rebellious ~ because it is! But the spirit of freedom enjoyed by one is contagious and will inspire the
free-spiritedness of others, …until they settle for nothing less than the freedom that was won for all.
I’ve often wondered what our Lord really meant when he used the phrase In Remembrance of Me. It
is inscribed on every communion table at the center of every church, and we all assume that it means
to break bread and to share the cup. But our Lord was never fond of sacred rituals that did not
powerfully and effectively lead to the transformation of life for all of us.
Perhaps, he knew that the greatest danger to those who followed him in every age would be their
capacity to forget ~ that they would become a people who would forget the cost of freedom ~ the
price that the brave would pay for it, and the price that He paid for it!
The Rev. Dr. David S. Hodgson