There are hardly words for last week. For the violence we witnessed last Sunday. Lives ripped apart by gunfire. A festive concert turned into a nightmare. What do you say, what do you do in light of such horror? And where is God in all of it?
I am sure that wasn’t all your week held for you. Perhaps you had your own places of bearing crushing news, of discouragement, of feeling like life is just too much right now. Too much wrong, too much injustice, too much hard. Maybe your mind even drifted to the thought, “Where are you God? Have you forgotten me?”
Last week, when the violence unfolded in Las Vegas, I was in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. These books that chronicle the life of the people of Israel, God’s people, returning home after being taken off into exile. Everything had been taken from them: their king, their land, their Holy City, their Temple even their numbers had been whittled down to a small remnant. The people of God had been living in exile as slaves in a foreign land, under foreign kings. Talk about feeling forgotten by God.
After 70 years of this exile existence, a not-their-land-not-their-people-not-living-in-freedom existence, they finally were given permission to return to their homeland by a king to whom they were still subject. So they returned home… to ruins. A Holy City whose walls were piles of rubble, a sacred Temple that had been burnt to the ground.
They start rebuilding but almost a hundred years after God’s people have been back in their homeland, their beloved Holy City Jerusalem is still not rebuilt. The walls have not been repaired leaving the people defenseless and vulnerable. News of the state of affairs reaches the ears of Nehemiah, a Jew still living in Persia who works for the King.
Upon hearing the news of the state of Jerusalem, Nehemiah weeps and cries out God to in prayer:
“O Lord, God of the heaven… Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ Nehemiah 1:8-9
What struck me are these words: Please remember.
Please remember God. Remember what you promised you would do.
This is actually something we see people doing throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms.
“Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.” Psalm 25:6
“Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them.” Psalm 106:4
Psalm 38 even has in it’s title: “A psalm of David, asking God to remember him.”
What’s with this asking God to remember us?! Is it that we have somehow slipped God’s mind?
Throughout Scripture there is a phrase that is used over and over again “God remembered…”
“Then God remembered Noah” (Gen 8:1)
“God remembered Abraham” (Gen 19:29)
“God remembered Rachel” (Gen 30:22)
“The Lord remembered Hannah” (1 Sam 1:19)
Is God having a “senior moment”? Is God going about his business and suddenly remembers, “Oh yeah! I better go follow up with so and so”?
Here’s where those study bible notes come in so handy! The NIV Study Bible gives this note on Genesis 8:1 ‘Then God remembered Noah…”
To ‘remember’ in the Bible is not merely to recall to mind; it is to express concern for someone, to act with loving care for him. When God remembers His people, He does so ‘with favor.’
When Scripture tells us God “remembers” so and so, it means that God is following through on the promise He made to them. God is taking action. God is doing what he said he would do.
The essence of God remembering someone lies in God’s previous commitment to them to act with favor toward them. When Genesis 8:1 says, “God remembered Noah” it means that God kept his promise to Noah by causing the flood to end and allowing the ark to arrive safely on dry ground. God sealed this promise with a rainbow, another promise to all creation to never ravage the earth in such a way again.
Our God, he always remembers.
God never forgets his promises. And God always keeps his promises.
One of the prophets who speaks into the lives of the people of Israel, specifically those in Judah, is the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah brought words of judgement to Judah for their sins, but he also brings words of comfort and hope. Toward the end of his prophecy, as if knowing the people of Israel will feel forgotten while in exile, Isaiah shares these words.
“I’ve posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem.
Day and night they keep at it, praying,
calling out, reminding God to remember.
They are to give him no peace until he does what he said…”
Isaiah 62:6-7a The Message
In our places of feeling forgotten, in those places of wondering: Where is God? Has he abandoned us completely? Call out. Remind God to remember. God remember me. God remember your promises. Like Nehemiah, like David, like Isaiah, remind God to be the God he says he will be.
One of the holiest sights in Israel is the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. It is what’s left of the Second Temple, the construction of which is recorded in the book of Ezra that I’ve been studying. This Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE when the Jews revolted against the Roman Empire.
Like Nehemiah who wept at the news of Jerusalem still being a place rubble and ash, Jews have for centuries wept at the Wailing Wall. They come here to mourn the destruction of the Temple, the center of Jewish ritual and worship, at the fragment of the only wall left, fittingly giving it the name The Wailing Wall.
For centuries Jews have come to the Wailing Wall praying for the rebuilding of the Temple and offering other prayers of their hearts to God. At some point a tradition began of placing prayers written on paper into the cracks and crevice in the wall. To this day you can go and see these prayers and you can see those who come to weep and pray.
As I thought about the Wailing Wall, I realized it is an act of reminding God to remember. Those who come to this Wall to pray follow in the footsteps of David and Nehemiah and Isaiah, “God remember what you said…”
In light of last week, in light of all the places where it seems our world has gone mad, in light of what may be going on in your own life, take up the words of Isaiah: Give God no peace until he does what he says.
Remind God to remember.
Remind God to bestow his promised favor upon you. Remind God to remember he promised he is a God who makes good of all things (Rom 8:28). Remind God to remember he has promised to shine light into the darkness (John 1:4-5). Remind God to remember that he has promised to uphold the afflicted and oppressed (Psalm 10:17-18, Psalm 146:7-9) . Remind God to remember he has promised to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).
Remind God to be true to his Word, to who he is, a God whose very nature is goodness and faithfulness and justice and redemption.
And as we remind God to remember his promises, it also reminds us of them. It keeps His promises in the forefront of our minds. We hold God’s promises close even as we remind God to hold them close, to not lose sight of them, to call them to mind and to act.
To remind God to remember is to hold to the belief that he will be true to his Word. And our God is always true to his Word. His very nature is faithfulness.
Friends, in whatever places you feel forgotten, hopeless, overwhelmed… remind God to remember. Give him no peace until he does what he said.
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2 thoughts on “Reminding God to Remember – When it Feels Like God has Forgotten Us”
I don’t know that this is true. I wish it were. I was moved by your essay. To a murdered Jewish family transported in cattle trucks to Auschwitz – where was the God who keeps his promises? A mother and child stare in horror at the pillar of smoke and fire rising above Hiroshima: where is the God of Psalm 91? And a hundred thousand more examples of God abandoning us, failing to keep his promises. At this point of promise, faith collapses in cognitive dissonance or continues with some supernatural (or psychotic) strength it seems. Many do not have the strength of Job. At the edge of the abyss of grief and despair, when we need God most, what if we find he has abandoned us? What if that fridge magnet about the feet in the sand is a mockery, a comfortable lie? That Psalm 91 bumper sticker a misappropriation of scripture? I have stood at my own edge. One thing keeps me from shouting out to God, “You lied! Your preachers and teachers lied from their nicely varnished pulpits! They spoke words of comfort when there was none, about a God who claims to care but abandons us!” One thing which keeps me falling into the abyss – or occurs even as I fall: the idea (oddly, in apophatic/mystical theology, the death-of-God theology of theologians like Peter Rollins and John Caputo and possibly Elie Wiesel too) that God is in the very experience of abandonment. How so? Christ’s cry from the cross: ‘Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani? perhaps means there is no more an interventionist deity to bring deliverance from without. Christ heralds God entering into our suffering. But Maybe not – maybe those theologians are all heretics. But if they are, then where is hope?. Where then do we find the God of the promise when the promises lie shattered around broken humanity?
Thanks for this reflection. Nehemiah’s “remember me God” shocks a fast reader. This plea-prayer is surprising, especially since it comes more than 6 times in the book. In the last chapter, it comes 4 times. And it comes from a man of prayer; a man who trusts God and knows well God does not forget. Thanks for the insights and the contextualization. God bless