Forgetting & Remembering

Forgetting & Remembering

Two chapters in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 40-41) present an enlightening quartet of lessons on remembrance and forgetfulness.  First, after interpreting the chief cupbearer’s dream favorably, an imprisoned Joseph asks him, “Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house” (Gen. 40:14).  In a tragic note, the 40th chapter ends with these words: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Gen. 40:23).  Sadly, this type of thing is not limited to the events of four millennia ago.  How many of us prosper and enjoy vast amounts of success, while forgetting the past goodness of parents and others who, in some cases, sacrificed tremendously so that we would have a better life?  May we instead remember them through words of thanksgiving and lives worthy of their sacrifices. 

After experiencing the pit of his brothers’ hatred and the bondage of slavery, the Lord eventually blesses Joseph, granting him the exalted position just under Pharaoh.  In the midst of seven years of plenty in Egypt, Joseph then receives a firstborn son.  Joseph names him Manasseh, which means the following: “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (Gen. 41:51b).

We together wonder what it will be like in the eternal “Paradise Valley,” and many speculate that the only way that there can be “no more tears” and “no more pain” is for God to put some type of “mental inhibitor” within us so that we cannot (we are not able to) think about the past, especially the family and friends who are not there with us.  However, I wonder if it might be something like the picture here of Joseph: an eternity of “plenty” as well as abundant and inexpressible blessings so drastically different from the pain of the past that in the fullness of these blessings we declare like Joseph, “God has made me forget.”

Providing for us a third lesson, Joseph prophesies about Pharaoh’s dream: “There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt.  The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be severe” (Gen. 41:29-31).

One of the effects of the famine will be that its severity will cause the years of plenty to be forgotten – to be unknown in the land.  Indeed, this is one of the effects of trials and difficulties in our lives.  Today’s problem combines with recency bias to produce a poison which can blind us to the goodness of yesterday.  This short-sightedness can keep us from seeing just how merciful and wonderful our God is.  The Hebrew writer says in this regard, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15).  In this, the words of Agur in Proverbs 30:8-9 resonate: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’, or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”  Let us not forget in the face of today’s problems all of the good things that the Lord our God has done.  Let us truly “give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess. 5:18).

As it turns out, the chief cupbearer finally remembers Joseph after two whole years.  Before recommending him as a dream interpreter to Pharaoh, the cupbearer says something interesting in Genesis 41:9.  He says, “I remember my offenses today.”  Why “today” of all days does he remember what he has done wrong?   It is likely because Pharaoh’s anger is reaching a level similar to the day of the cupbearer’s imprisonment, especially since all of the magicians and wise men of Egypt have been unable to interpret his dream.  “Heads are going to roll,” the cupbearer undoubtedly thinks to himself, and possibly thinks about himself!  This fear, this conflict, and this difficult situation all provide an opportunity for him to reflect.  It is in this reflection that he remembers a grievous offense – that he has forgotten Joseph.

“Where am I?”  ”Have I done anything to be in this situation?  Is this something that I deserve?”  These are typical questions to ask when we find ourselves living with the pigs in the far country (Luke 15:15-17).  Indeed, these are the same questions which Joseph’s brothers will ask themselves shortly (Gen. 42:22).  Truly then, there is a blessing to be found in honest and humble self-reflection, even if it comes when things are not “the best.”  In these times, may we remember the goodness and mercy of our God and return to Him.

한국어 읽기