The Memory of God
“Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out.”—John 5:28, 29, NW.
1. What is God’s ultimate purpose regarding mankind, and how will it be realized, depending on what?
PERFECT man is a perfect reflection of his glorious Creator. That is how it was in the beginning of human life on earth, and that is how it will be once again when, under the administration of “the holy city, New Jerusalem,” God renews his residence with humankind. Then, when all things are made new and the life pattern of every individual is ultimately cured of every imperfection, then again everyone living upon this renewed earth will perfectly mirror the likeness of his Maker, as a clear still pool of water beautifully reflects the evening sky and every detail of the surrounding rocks and foliage. That is a time well worth while visualizing and looking forward to, but it all depends, among other things, on the memory of God.—Rev. 21:2-5; 22:1-3, NW.
2. Realizing this is a judgment day should affect us what way?
2 Do not say to yourself, ‘Ah yes, but that day is a long way off, and meanwhile I feel very much enslaved to the present wicked system of things and its corrupting influence.’ The purpose of this article is to help you to appreciate that this is a day of judgment, and that it is possible and urgently necessary right now to bring your pattern of life into conformity with the new heavens and the new earth as a member of the New World society. This is a day of decision, either for or against God’s righteous, holy will and purpose. As John was told immediately after the glorious vision mentioned above: “The appointed time is near. He that is doing unrighteousness, let him do unrighteousness still; and let the filthy one be made filthy still; but let the righteous one do righteousness still, and let the holy one be made holy still.”—Rev. 22:10, 11, NW.
3. Where do we find the basis for our study, and how is the expression “life pattern” to be understood?
3 Do you still say that things are too much against you, and are you puzzled by the statement that it all depends on the memory of God? In reply, and in order to gain the proper perspective of this lesson and the subject matter involved, let us approach it from the viewpoint of the apostle in his argument in Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter will be familiar to many of our readers as a grand definition and record of faith. And so it is, of course; but interwoven therein is the very essence of our subject concerning the memory of God, also concerning the aspect of our life pattern. Perhaps we should explain right away that by the expression “life pattern” we simply mean the kind of person you are and the kind of life you live, according as you are governed by certain guiding principles, or, as is true of many today, by a total lack of principle, just drifting downstream with the prevailing current.
4. (a) In whom do we exercise faith? (b) What reward is mentioned at Hebrews chapter 11?
4 You will notice that in Hebrews chapter 11 the apostle introduces each individual named with the expression: “By faith . . . ” Then he follows that up in each instance with recorded evidence testifying to that one’s strong faith. Yes, but faith in whom and in what? That is the question that concerns us at the moment, and Paul answers it by saying that “he that approaches God must believe that he is and that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Heb. 11:6, NW) This means acknowledging not only the fact that there is a God, but that he ever is, or ever exists, the self-existing One. (Ps. 90:2) Coupled with that, one must also believe in the promise of a reward to those who sincerely seek him. And, since God exists eternally, then it logically follows that the enjoyment of the reward will continue forever to the one who retains God’s favor. What, then, is the reward? The writer enlarges on this a little later on in the same chapter when he tells how all those persons of faith were “reaching out for a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven,” and that God “has made a city ready for them.” Still later in the same letter he plainly identifies that city as “a city of the living [self-existing] God, heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb. 11:16; 12:22, NW; see also Revelation 21:2, NW.) This carries our minds right forward to the final outworking of the divine pattern. At the same time we are linked with the remote past, for Paul lists Abel as the first of those who manifested true faith. This linking together of the remote past with the distant future is where memory and pattern come in. These two words are closely related and we purpose to briefly discuss them at this point.
5, 6. (a) How is memory seen to be a marvelous faculty? (b) How is it also a precious gift?
5 What is memory? Memory is the mental faculty whereby we retain and recall previous ideas and impressions. We need not concern ourselves as to how memory operates in the human brain; indeed we doubt if a scientific answer can be given with any degree of certainty. While most of us sigh and moan over the shortness and imperfection of our memory, as when we meet someone well known but cannot recall the name, or give the wrong one, yet we cannot but marvel at the tremendous scope and possibilities of this particular faculty. It is really staggering when we stop to think of what the human mind is capable of in this respect, even though so imperfect. For instance, a gifted musician who applies his mind, together with other abilities, can sit down at a piano and play for hours, remembering and reproducing accurately the most complicated music in all its harmonies. On reflection, it seems that when man is restored to perfection he will enjoy without limit the ability to remember perfectly everything that he wishes and decides to remember. Contrariwise, he will be able to deliberately forget everything he desires to put out of his mind. Perfect man will never need to say either ‘Oh, I wish I could remember’ or ‘I wish I could forget.’ And may that day soon come is the wish of us all.
6 Besides being a wonderful gift, memory is also a very precious one, provided, of course, we have precious things to remember. Even under present conditions, we derive the keenest pleasure and delight as, by the aid of memory, we recall and live over again some particularly happy experience. Perhaps it is a memory of long ago when we found someone with whom we first experienced all the deep-seated joy that true friendship can bring. Many of our readers, too, will have a keen memory of what it meant to them when they first realized they had come to a correct understanding of Jehovah’s wonderful purpose and gracious provision. Yes, such memories are both strong and tender, stirring us to the very depth of heart and mind in their extraordinary appeal, bringing a happy smile to our lips or perhaps an unbidden tear to our eyes. Let us by all means fully appreciate and wisely use this loving gift of a gracious Creator.
7. Where do we find the best guide as to God’s purpose, giving us an insight into what?
7 But what of God’s memory? It would be presumptuous for human creatures to discuss the mind of the Creator, how it operates and what its functions and abilities are, except as the Creator himself is pleased to give such information to man. Has he done so? He has indeed. Even the visible works of creation eloquently testify to a creative mind of infinite ability and wisdom, for, says the apostle, “his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are understood by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship.” (Rom. 1:20, NW) But it is in and through his written Word that God has been pleased to give a much fuller revelation of his purpose respecting the human family, and, incidentally, to give us an insight as to how his mind operates. First, in the account of man’s creation we read that God said: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26, NW) That certainly includes a likeness in mental abilities and processes of reasoning and memory. In fact, the first piece of recorded conversation in the Bible involved a memory test. The serpent said to Eve: “Is it really so that God said . . . ?” And Eve showed by her reply that she remembered and understood and was able to repeat perfectly what God had said.—Gen. 3:1-3, NW.
8. What does the Bible reveal regarding God’s memory as related to his purpose?
8 Now let us approach this question regarding God’s memory from the viewpoint of those things discussed in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. There, we remember, in submitting the long list of men and women of faith, Paul speaks of the reward in which they all exercised faith in common. This reward centered in a city of heavenly origin. But was anything said to Abel, the first man of faith, about a city? No, but in Abel’s day God had already given his initial promise, not of a city, but of a seed to the woman who would eventually crush the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20, NW) From a study of this theme in the Scriptures nothing stands out plainer than the fact that God ever keeps that original promise in mind. Not only that, but he knew and determined exactly how that promise would finally be worked out, for he himself declares: “I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, . . . [and] saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Isa. 46:9, 10, AS) That grand statement shows that the memory of God never operates in a haphazard way, as is often so in our case, when something happens to quicken our memory only because of some closely associated thing coming to our notice. In contrast, when it says that God knew and determined the end from the beginning, it means he is ever mindful of it and exercises a continual and deliberate remembrance concerning the same. It also means something else. It means he is a purposeful and designing God. This is where our other word in which we are interested comes in, namely, “pattern.”
9. How is the word “pattern” used in Scripture, and related to what other word?
9 A pattern is something formed or designed to serve as a guide or model to be copied. It is similar in meaning to the word “type,” which signifies a figure or representation of something to come. The word “pattern” occurs a few times throughout the Scriptures. A good example of its use is found in Hebrews chapter 8, where the apostle, speaking of the Israelitish priests and the tabernacle arrangements, says: “Which men are rendering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things; just as Moses, when about to make the complete tent, was given the divine command: For says he, ‘See that you make all things according to the pattern [margin, type] that was shown you in the mountain.’” (Heb. 8:5, NW) Then Paul goes on to explain about the fulfillment of the pattern, or type, showing the close correspondency, yet, at the same time, showing how the fulfillment is far better and greater. Practically the whole of the letter to the Hebrews is based on this form of argument.
10. (a) What does a pattern always imply? (b) How does this apply to the subject of our study?
10 Please notice this, that whenever we speak of a pattern, or type, there is always connected with it the thought of a specific purpose, or design. In the first instance, the pattern itself is not made according to chance, but according to a certain end in view. Then, in every step of the way and in every procedure involved, looking toward the ultimate attainment of that desired end, there must be strict conformity with the original pattern. Additions and enlargements may be brought in, but all must be in harmony with the initial pattern and the purpose connected therewith. See how true this is regarding those things we have just been discussing. In this case, the original pattern was not some tangible, material thing, but it was a word of promise given in Eden, the promise of a seed. That was the only promise Abel had as a foundation for faith, yet it was sufficient. And since every additional promise given by God was a harmonious development of that first one, then Paul was enabled and justified in linking together in one continuous chain all those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11 as having the same faith in the one true God, who exists ever, and in that grand reward promised in the full outworking of that original promise. True, an additional theme of a “city” was worked into the pattern as time went on, but the harmony is easily seen, for the King of that city, symbolizing God’s ruling organization and government, is none other than the promised “seed,” the Son to whom God’s woman gives birth, the King, Christ Jesus.
11. How are Christians closely linked with those listed in Hebrews chapter 11?
11 Also notice that that continuous chain does not end with those men of faith who lived and died before Christ came, but it is linked with those who follow after Christ, with Christ himself as the center and pivot of the whole group of witnesses. This is where we realize, as was mentioned earlier, how this study helps us to appreciate the need in this day of decision to pattern our lives after the right example, “as we look intently at the leader and perfecter of our faith, Jesus,” besides all the encouragement and admonition derived from that chain and “cloud of witnesses surrounding us.” (Heb. 12:1, 2, NW) Yes, we must have the same faith as they had, demonstrated in the same way, and looking to the same city. Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we must prove ourselves to be “strangers and temporary residents” amidst this present wicked system of things and its corrupting influence, “for we do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.”—Heb. 11:13; 13:14, NW.
12, 13. (a) How are God’s memory and pattern of his purpose related to his name and Word? (b) Does Paul’s argument strengthen faith in one aspect only?
12 Thus far, then, we have seen how Paul’s discussion of the subject of faith highlights both the unfailing memory of God and the consistent pattern of his purpose, which he ever keeps in mind. Why, his very name and Word strongly emphasize both these same things. His name, Jehovah, gives the initial foundation for faith in the outworking of the divine pattern without deviation, as he himself declares: “For I, Jehovah, change not.” He is always mindful of his covenants. His Word, too, reveals an Author who knows how to take up thread after thread, theme after theme, weaving them into a glorious and harmonious pattern, simple in outline, intricate in its interwoven detail.—Mal. 3:6; Gen. 9:15, 16; Lev. 26:42, 45; Ezek. 16:60, AS.
13 But Paul’s argument not only provides a grand build-up for faith in the memory of God respecting his purpose. It provides a strong foundation for faith in something else as well. What is that?
FAITH IN A RESURRECTION
14. (a) Did Jesus show that belief in a resurrection demanded real faith? (b) How does Christendom’s teaching vitiate this doctrine?
14 When Jesus made his great pronouncement that “all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out,” it was not without reason that he prefaced it with the words: “Do not marvel at this.” (John 5:28, 29, NW) He well understood that belief in a resurrection as taught in the Scriptures constituted one of the most searching tests of faith. Of course, the way Christendom in general explains the doctrine of a resurrection largely does away with the need for real faith, which doubtless explains why her teachings are more acceptable to the masses than the truth of the Bible. By accepting the general teaching that man possesses an immortal soul, the real self, and that death does not mean a cessation or cutting off from life, but is rather the door leading to a fuller life, then that waters down the meaning of a resurrection to a mere reunion of body and soul. It is not our purpose in this study to submit Scriptural proof in order to combat Christendom’s false teachings on this subject, as the ground has previously been well covered in the pages of this magazine, as well as in the Watch Tower Society’s other publications. Rather, our purpose is to strengthen faith in a resurrection through a better understanding and appreciation of the memory of God, and then to see how this vitally affects our life pattern.
15. What is shown by the context of John 5:28, 29, and what is the contrast between the memorial tombs and Gehenna?
15 That Jesus himself had unbounded faith in a resurrection is beyond question. This was not because of anything arising out of his own initiative, but he acknowledged that all the credit was due to his heavenly Father, including the authority and power to raise from the dead, thus causing a standing or raising up again to life, which is the real meaning of the word “resurrection” (Greek, anástasis). This is clearly seen from a reading of John 5:19-27 (NW). Then comes the climax at Joh 5 verses 28 and 29. Notice the specific reference to the “memorial tombs.” This is in direct contrast with that other place, “Gehenna,” where the dead bodies of executed criminals were sometimes thrown, because they were thought too vile to have a resurrection from the dead and hence to have a decent burial and memorial tomb.
16 The fact that Jesus used the term “memorial tomb” showed that he was in complete agreement with the inspired statement at Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10 (AS), which reads: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, . . . for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest.” Yes, Sheol is the common grave of mankind into which they go at the end of their earthly course. But Jesus had such confidence in his heavenly Father’s power and ability to hold in his memory as many of these as he chose that he deliberately used the expression “memorial tombs,” which was in common use in his day. As later proved by the most convincing evidence, Jesus showed he was justified in saying: “I am the resurrection and the life,” when, by God’s power, he raised Lazarus from the dead, who “had already been four days in the memorial tomb.” Note the two reasons why Jesus rejoiced that he was not there in time to heal his friend of his sickness before death actually occurred. The first reason was that it was “for the glory of God, in order that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The second reason given was “in order for you to believe.” Surely there is every reason why we should have strong faith in a resurrection.—John 11:4, 15, 17, 25, NW.
17. With what expression did Job express faith in a resurrection?
17 That such a faith in God’s ability to retain in his memory those who had died was not new in Jesus’ day is clearly shown by the ancient record concerning Job. What grand words of faith are his, as recorded at Job 14:13 (AS): “Oh that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!”
18. What is the Scriptural answer as to whether all the dead are retained in God’s memory?
18 As already intimated, God does not purpose to retain in his memory all who have died, without exception. As he purposely remembers some, he also can and does deliberately forget others. God’s own Word tells us how he determines the matter. “The memory of the righteous is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot.”—Prov. 10:7, AS.
19. How did Paul argue for faith in a resurrection, especially at Hebrews chapter 11?
19 That the apostle Paul also had an unbounded faith in a resurrection of the dead is likewise beyond question. He, too, knew that this doctrine was a searching test of faith, as is shown, for example, by his experience at Athens. (Acts 17:31, 32) In his writings this subject is given prominence, as, for instance, in that powerful argument contained in the well-known chapter at 1 Corinthians 15. Again, at Romans 4:16-25 (NW), in discussing the faith of father Abraham, he shows how important it is to have faith in God, “who makes the dead alive and calls the things that are not as though they were.” But we are particularly interested in the apostle’s theme of faith and its relation to a resurrection as dealt with at Hebrews chapter 11. Here again he cites the example of Abraham and Sarah, first as respects their faith in God’s power to bring forth a promised seed, even though they were both “as good as dead” as far as any human prospects in that direction were concerned. Then, including all mentioned in this chapter, he says, “In faith all these died,” and finally explains that they “did not get the fulfillment of the promise, as God foresaw something better for us [Christians], in order that they might not be made perfect apart from us.” (Heb. 11:12, 13, 39, 40, NW) The conclusion is therefore inescapable that in order for them to enjoy the fulfillment of that which was promised and which is awaiting them in that city made ready for them, there must of necessity be a resurrection of the dead.
20. Why should we not marvel at all concerning a resurrection of the dead?
20 Do you marvel at this? Surely there is nothing unreasonable or farfetched about such a possibility. It is not an unusual experience for someone getting on in years to hear mentioned a name that he has not heard since perhaps he was at school. Immediately he can recall that person and, so to speak, re-create him in his mind’s eye, how he used to dress, the look on his face, and a multitude of characteristics and incidents. Again, think of that musician who can remember and accurately reproduce, not just one piece of music with all its notes, but many and varied such pieces. So we readily admit that mere man, with his many limitations and imperfections, has marvelous capabilities within the scope of his memory. Why, then, should we think that the almighty and infinite Creator, the One who made man’s mind and knows exactly how it works, has not the power to call back from the memorial tomb and re-create all those whom he has held in his memory, yes, including all their traits and mental impressions that go to make up each individual? As Paul once pertinently asked: “Why is it judged unbelievable among you men that God raises up the dead?” There is only the one answer. “Do not marvel at this.”—Acts 26:8; John 5:28, NW.