Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Redemptive Memory

Many grieving parents tend to “live in the past.”  They hold on to everything about those moments, now gone, that they shared with their children. If there is nothing outside of our selves, then I suppose this is right—those fleeting moments are all we have with our children. Unfortunately, as we can attest, if we focus exclusively on those wonderful, sweet memories of times with our children, we are also likely to focus at times on the circumstances surrounding the death of our child, including the terror and great grief.

But God does not view history the way we do.  In his book, A Grace Revealed, theologian Jerry Sittser describes the importance of using “redemptive memory” so that we can try to understand, at least in part, how God is using our history to shape us more like him.  “Redemption is worked out within the framework of time, which is why it is important to examine how God functions both within and beyond it.”  Sittser, Grace Revealed, 153.   Sittser, who himself lost his wife, mother and daughter in a car accident about twenty years ago, was able to come to the point where, while certainly not glad that the accident occurred, could see the numerous blessings to him and his family, from an eternal perspective, that arose from the accident. 

While we are stuck “inside” time, God views time as occurring instantaneously.  If we view human tragedy the way that God does, we cannot define a particular event based upon its impact at any one particular time. God is working for our good through sequences of moments that are intended to make us more like him.   Consider how water drips on a rock.  At any one particular point in time, there will be no felt or seen impact of that water on the rock. But over many years, and certainly many hundreds of years, the water will change the shape of the rock.  Similarly, God is using our history, both the tragic events, as well as the mundane, day-to-day trials, to make us more like him. 
The great news of the gospel is, among many other things, that we are part of the larger redemptive story and that no one event, however, tragic, can and should define us.  The cross, in itself, is the most egregious event every perpetrated on another human.  But Easter Sunday morning, and then Pentacost, and then two thousand years of the working of the Holy Spirit, and then our testimonies, demonstrate that the legacy of the Cross is not just the unjust sentence, the inhumane torture, and death.  It is the redemption of those who are called by God.  

In our case, the idea of “redemptive memory” does not mean that we should forget the great grief of how Micah died—how if, in any one of a number of instances, things would have gone differently, he would still be with us today.  But at the same time, it is far too early for me to write a definitive account of Micah’s life and legacy.  The way in which Micah died cannot be viewed as a self-contained event having meaning within itself.  It must be viewed along with the various and numerous grace-filled blessings that have arisen in our lives by reason of it. Just as the Cross of Christ cannot be viewed outside of its redemptive impact on human history, so also we grieving parents must view our child’s death in light of what God has done, and continues to do, by reason of his or her death.