Memory Check

Perhaps, you have noticed the proliferation of games and tests aimed at meeting our need to feel secure in the things we remember. With all the attention given to horrible diseases which rob the mind, we feel comforted in remembering. But, memory fails, even in the best of us.

According to Tyler Smith, “researchers [have] discovered that our memories might not be as reliable as we think. In fact, every time you recall a memory, your brain distorts it a little. Like making a copy of a copy of a copy, you reproduce the event in your mind’s eye based on earlier versions of the memory” (Logos Talk. “Why You May Be Misreading Scripture, & and What to Do about it”. Mon, April 10, 2017).

In practical terms, what this means is that your favorite stories, as told around the dinner table, might not be as accurate as you think they are—that fish you caught might not have been as big as described. It is not as though you are deliberately exaggerating—you may be recalling a memory of a memory of a memory.

If we are willing to listen, this says a lot about our need to rely on Scripture in our teaching and preaching. Otherwise, the retelling of familiar Bible stories becomes less and less like the original, divinely inspired narrative. Important details are lost or otherwise overlooked as we grow content in retelling the gist of the story from our own perspective.

Ancient Israelites, though commanded to tell and retell important stories of their colorful past, were required to go back to the Scriptures for periodic reminder (Dt. 31:9-13 cf. Josh. 8:34-35; 2 Kgs. 23:1-3; Neh. 8:1-12).

As Christians, we are also blessed with the ability to go back and check the facts from the inspired text. The story of Jesus may be told and retold many times. It is important, however, to rely on the Scriptures for accurate recall. Otherwise, we may soon be missing important details or adding to the story facts that are absent from the inspired account.

The writers of the New Testament were endowed with the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit to “guide [them] into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). These men were “moved by the Holy Spirit” and “spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:21). The Holy Spirit was sent to “teach [them] all things, and bring to [their] remembrance all that [Jesus had spoken to them]” (Jn. 14:26). The Bible is not a body of recollections dependent upon the frail memory of men—these are inspired remembrances, accurate in every detail.

Much of the good we accomplish today in preaching and teaching falls into the realm of reminder. Peter said he was ready to remind the brethren of important biblical truths and would continue to do so as long as God granted him life (2 Pet. 1:12-15; 3:1-2). Paul said it was no trouble for him to write the same things over again and that it was a safeguard for his readers (Ph. 3:1). Perhaps, we would do well to remember that a sermon or class filled with Scripture, even Scripture with which we are well-familiar, is a necessary step we must take to avoid the digression which naturally occurs when we rely solely upon our failing memory.

Written by Glen Elliot

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