I thoroughly believe that the cruelest disease in the world is Alzheimer’s. I realize that cancer is a strong contender for that title. But the very thought of losing my memory, my thoughts, my love for my friends and family, my very self slipping away is pretty frightening. I don’t know if my grandfather was actually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but he did experience dementia to some degree. During my childhood I was raised between my Mom (who was working) and my grandparents who babysat me constantly. Every day I came home and kissed my grandpa who sitting in his chair. Although I was really young, my intuition knew something was wrong with him. Only later I found out that after I had kissed him and walked out of the room, he asked my grandmother, “Who was that?” with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Dennis Prager, one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, is frequently pointing out how important keeping memories alive really is. He participates every year in the Passover, a 3000 year old ritual which keeps in the forefront of the minds of the next generation a central event in Jewish history. His contention—and I agree with him—that to lose one’s memory is to lose one’s self.
That’s the type of amnesia which Isaiah was decrying in today’s passage. He starts out by bringing forward the hero and star of this story: God Almighty. The Lord set his sights on a man and made that man into a nation. He didn’t do this because they deserved it: On the contrary, he did it “according to his compassion and many kindnesses,” certainly not according to how righteous they were. He showered them with blessings, love, forgiveness, mercy, provision, and protection. The picture here is not one of a God who sits up in Heaven merely manipulating events and people—Notice the extremely moving phrase “in all their distress he too was distressed.” When they suffered, he suffered with them. Even before the Incarnation, he was a God who is right here with his people when they’re undergoing hardship; after the coming of Christ, of course, that “nearness” aspect from verse is all the more poignant.
And what was their reaction to his treatment of them? Gratitude? Obedience? Submission? Trust? Zeal for his glory?
If you know anything about your Old Testament, you don't even have to read verse 10 to answer that question.
They rebelled. They complained. They turned to other gods so fast you could barely mark the transition. And notice, once again, the pathos of the verb used here: They grieved him. He wasn’t just a judge who was rendering a verdict. He was a judge and a Father forced to render a verdict on his own child.
But then, they remembered. They recalled what he had done for them. By his grace, they called back to mind what he'd done in the time of Moses, when their nation had been founded. They thought about the miracles of the Red Sea and how he'd provided for them in the wilderness. But even more than the physical miracles, he'd set his presence among them. That’s what the verse is talking about when it mentions that he had “set his Holy Spirit among them.” Nothing else he did or could have done physically would compare with that.
What about us? As believers, is it possible for us to have spiritual amnesia? Well, why do you think the Lord instituted communion for us? Because it’s so easy for us to forget. As we mature as Christians, it’s easy to forget what he saved us from. It’s easy to judge others, because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be lost.
So what do you need to remember?
Lord Jesus, as the old hymn goes, may I never outlive my love to Thee. When I start to forget your goodness to me, wake me from my amnesia. Whatever it takes.