What does amnesia have to do with feeling distant from God? If you Google the word amnesia the definition that comes up is “a partial or total loss of memory.” According to the Bible, we are prone to forget about God’s goodness and mighty works. You may even say we have a partial or total loss of memory of God’s steadfast love and goodness. Episodes of “amnesia” can be present in your day-to-day life, however, they become most prevalent during trials we will face over the course of our lifetime. Not only are we prone to forget God’s steadfast love and goodness but we also overlook our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. We will unpack how “amnesia,” for Christians, leads to forgetting who God is and who we are to him.
FORGETTING WHO GOD IS
Dan Allender, a Christian author, and psychologist writes that “faith in God’s character grows to the degree I remember God. Faith is trust in the goodness of God. I grow as I recall and recollect the stories of God in the Bible, in the lives of others, and in my own life.” Allender goes on to state, “the dilemma is that as I remember the moments where God has redeemed me, I am also left with the many moments he has chosen, apparently, to abandon me or -- even more painful to admit -- betray me.” Allender states, “Betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment of care.” There is an intricate link between feeling betrayed and faith. Dr. Allender points out that faith is tied to our past whereas hope is related to our future. We hope for things to come however our faith is impacted by the events of our past. Many people feel betrayed by God because they cried out to him in a time of need, believing with faith, that their cries would be heard. When silence returns from one’s cries, a seed of distrust toward God can be planted. This seed can then be nurtured when we turn from God. Allender writes, “when we turn from God, we inevitably demand of others the very things we miss in our relationship with God. If we do not know his genuine care and protection, then we will insist another human being provide what we lack.” The struggle to have faith in God and then to feel betrayed by him is an age old battle. We only need to look to the book of Exodus to see God’s own people he delivered from slavery in Egypt continuously struggle to forget God’s faithfulness to them in the midst of their cries for help.
The theme of the Israelites forgetting God’s faithfulness to deliver them from bondage continues throughout the book of Exodus and all of Scripture. The Israelites likely felt betrayed by God so therefore they sought to look to the Egyptians to fulfill their needs. All they had known was captivity and slavery under the Egyptian rule. Slavery and captivity were safer and more familiar to them than God. They wrestled with feeling betrayed by God to be led into the wilderness to die. Their faith was rocky and their memory lost toward God’s faithfulness. It is easy to look at the Israelites and judge them for not having faith. After all, they witnessed so many mighty works by God, how could they forget? How could they ever lack trust in God? However, unfortunately, many of us are more like the Israelites than we would dare to admit. We tend to have amnesia when it comes to trusting in God, particularly when we have felt the sting of feeling betrayed after crying out to the Lord. We too forget all the ways God has been faithful to us in our lives. We tend to turn back toward slavery and captivity in our brokenness than to dare to hope in and have faith that God will rescue us. We tend to be self-reliant, independent, free thinking people who trust our broken nature over a holy God. The good news is God’s Word points us to remember, to recall and reflect on his faithfulness.
God’s book of prayers, the Psalms, points us to remember his faithfulness. For instance, Psalms 104 and 105 are petitions to remember God’s faithfulness. God calls his creation to remember his faithfulness during seasons of waiting on him. He gives us the gift of remembering so that we can recall his mighty works, which fuels our faith to hope in him. As Allender stated, “faith in God’s character grows to the degree I remember God. Faith is trust in the goodness of God. I grow as I recall and recollect the stories of God in the Bible, in the lives of others, and in my own life.” One reason many Christians feel distant from God is that they have amnesia. They do not recall what Allender points out, which is to look to God’s faithfulness in his Word, the lives of others, and our own lives. Remember. Recall. In the midst of waiting on God, in the midst of your cries toward the heavens, seek to remember and recall God’s mighty works. He is faithful. He will not betray you or abandon you. How do I know? Those who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior are adopted sons and daughters of the living God.
FORGETTING WHO YOU ARE
Paul Tripp, a pastor, and author writes the following about forgetting who you are:
Who in the world do you think you are? I am serious. Who do you think you are? You and I are always assigning to ourselves some kind of identity. And the things that you and I do are shaped by the identity that we have given ourselves. So it’s important to acknowledge that God has not only forgiven you (and that is a wonderful thing), but he has also given you a brand-new identity. If you’re God’s child, you are now a son or daughter of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You are in the family of the Savior, who is your friend and brother. You are the temple where the Spirit of God now lives. Yes, it really is true -- you’ve been given a radically new identity.
The problem, sadly, is that many of us live in a constant, or at least a rather regular, state of identity amnesia. We forget who we are, and when we do, we begin to give way to doubt, fear, and timidity. Identity amnesia makes you feel poor when in fact you are rich. It makes you feel foolish when in fact you are in a personal relationship with the One who is wisdom. It makes you feel unable when in fact you have been blessed with strength. It makes you feel alone when in fact, since the Spirit lives inside of you, it is impossible for you to be alone. You feel unloved when in fact, as a child of the heavenly Father, you have been graced with eternal love. You feel like you don’t measure up when in fact the Savior measured up on your behalf. Identity amnesia sucks the life out of your Christianity in the right here, right now moment in which all of us live.
If you’ve forgotten who you are in Christ, what are you left with? You’re left with Christless Christianity, which is little more than a system of theology and rules. Moreover, you know that if all you needed were theology and rules, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. All God would have needed to do was drop the Bible down on you and walk away. But he didn’t walk away; he invaded your life as Father, Savior, and Helper. By grace, he made you part of his family… So if you’re his child, ward off the fear that knocks on your door by remembering who God is and who you’ve become as his chosen child. And don’t just celebrate his grace; let it shape the way you live today and the tomorrows that follow.
CHOOSING TO REMEMBER
What does amnesia have to do with feeling distant from God? We are forgetful beings. It is who we are. Some of us remember better than others. However, as a whole, we are prone to amnesia, which applies in particular when it comes to remembering who God is and who we are in a relationship with him. Despite what we may tell ourselves we are not that much different from the Israelites. We quickly forget about God’s steadfast love and goodness. Having faith in God requires us to pause, reflect, and recall God’s goodness in what we read from the Bible, in what we hear from others, and in what we experience for ourselves. Sadly, we are not just prone to amnesia when it comes to God’s goodness and steadfast love but also when it comes to who we are in a relationship with God. Jesus referred to God as a Father. Paul tells us that we’re adopted sons and daughters of God the Father (Romans 8:12-23; Ephesians 1:3-14). Why is it that many of us, as Paul Tripp points out, believe in God and put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and yet we cannot live as though we are sons and daughters of the living God? Many Christians feel distant from God because they have identity amnesia. They do not recall, or believe, that they are dearly loved by their heavenly Father. What will it take to accept your place as a child of God’s? What are the barriers and obstacles in your way that prevent you from accepting your true identity? Can you dream and imagine how life would be different for you if you fully accepted your identity as a child of God’s?
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus whom you adore and bought with the precious unblemished blood of your Son. Help them recall your mighty works and remember your faithfulness. Whatever their current struggles, please stir your Spirit within them to remember your acts of faithfulness in your Word, in the lives of others, and in their own lives. May their faith be fueled by remembering and may their hope be fueled by their faith for things yet to come. Lead my brothers and sisters to meditate and ponder your great love for them through Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Exercise: Make a list of the ways God has been faithful to you, and others you know, over the course of your lifetime. Take time to recall his faithfulness, mercy, grace, and love. Take some time to reflect on identity. Where is your identity rooted? If you struggle to accept your identity as a child of God’s, then take some time to reflect, ponder, and think about what are the barriers and obstacles that prevent you from believing this to be true? Prayerfully ask God to remove the barriers and obstacles in your way. Use Matthew 7:7-11 as an example of praying to your Heavenly Father.
Allender, D. (2000). The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life.
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Tripp, P. (2014). New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional.
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.