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Sometimes when I am doing the most normal of things, it is as if my eyes are suddenly opened and I see through the thin veil of reality that hides the truth of our existence. Too metaphysical? Let me try this: a great example of what I am talking about is a typical television commercial. The company sells you a reality where only their product can make your life complete. Whether it’s a new car, which will wear out and be discarded, or a new house, which will eventually succumb to nature and decay, everything they try to sell you veiled in a fantastical reality pointing to a singleness of thought: buy our product. It is easy to see through a commercial, but the difficultly comes when we must break through the veil we place over our own eyes. How we perceive ourselves and how we think others perceive us is often a false reality that we create to comfort ourselves, and when the veil is lifted, the realization of the truth can be very disillusioning and painful. The fact that life is fleeting and that one day all that we’ve accomplished will fade and we ourselves will be forgotten can be very unsettling and even depressing. So what is the point of earthly existence?
Consider this verse from Hebrews 8:27-28 (NAS): “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” So each of us will at some time die, but none of us face oblivion. There is One who remembers us and everything we have done on this earth. That same One will judge us based on our actions. By what standard? His righteous standard. What does that mean? Consider these verses found in Romans 3:10-12:
as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
So if no one is righteous, what hope do we have? Consider this final verse found in Romans 5:8-9: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” This thinly veiled reality is for but a moment, and then…eternity. Where will you spend it? Eternal judgment or in eternal grace and mercy?
Memory is one of the most important ways history influences our world. The way in which we remember events of the past can shape our perceptions of present and future events. The historical manuscripts, artifacts, statues, and buildings that our collective history is based upon also influences our cultural identity. The destruction of the same aforementioned articles and structures would rob us of part of our identity. The Declaration of Independence of the United States has been copied and reproduced over and over again. It appears in textbooks, and is readily available online, so why do we take such care to preserve the original. Many in this nation have not nor will ever make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. in order to view the original. The loss of such a document would not endanger the nation of being reabsorbed into the British Empire any more than Canada or Australia would. So again I ask: why is the original document so important to the people’s collective memory? Those who wrote the document are long since gone and buried, but we as citizens of the United States base our identity on the “inalienable rights” found within the document. We assert our claim on the God-given rights outlined in the document, including “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Another, not so pleasant, example is Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a site that depicts one of the most heinous acts and depressing periods of human history. Whether complicit or not, the preservation of Auschwitz is an embarrassing reminder for the German people of one of the darkest periods of their history. They pass this memory on to their children, and their children’s children. So why preserve such a site, when it casts such a black shadow on the people? Why not destroy it and erase the embarrassing mistake from memory?
During the Roman period, the Senate or emperor could order the removal of a public official from memory for the good of the empire. Modern historians call this damnatio memoriae, which literally means “condemnation of memory.” This included the total erasure of the person’s name from public documents and faces from statues and other visages. The Romans were not unique in wanting to destroy the embarrassing memory from their history. Every culture has tried to cover up or erase the painful and embarrassing events from their history in order to promote consensus and maintain national pride. This is unfortunate because we often learn most from our mistakes. The memory of mistakes like the Holocaust is paramount to future generations. We must realize that we cannot fix the mistakes of the past, but we can prevent them ever occurring again.
Vigilance against evil sometimes requires knowing what to guard against. Tyranny, mass murder, genocide, and a world at war came from Nazi Germany. The demand for equal rights and representation led to the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. The memory of those time periods, passed down from generation to generation, can prevent the reoccurrence of such evils, but only if we don’t shrink from the pain and embarrassment and embrace our heritage whether good or bad. Fight against the destruction of history and memory or we may be doomed to repeat our greatest mistakes.