Monday, November 13, 2006

Remembrance Day

This weekend, we observed Remembrance Day in the Cayman Islands. Allied countries around the globe observe Remembrance Day during a similar annual ceremony, with two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – when the armistice ended World War I in 1918.

In addition to a parade and wreath laying ceremony, Caymanians commemorate the day by wearing red felt poppies--which bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders, north of Paris in World War I, their red color an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare.

Remembering our veterans and their sacrifice is an appropriate thing to do. Reminding ourselves of the freedoms and opportunities purchased by so high a sacrifice strengthens our connection with those who have gone before us and raises our estimation of the advantages we so often take for granted. It was a joy to see so many wearing the little poppies… a visibly bright but soft-spoken gesture of remembrance, honor and appreciation.

In times past, I’ve not been particularly observant on Veterans’ Day in the States. Even though I have a grandfather and brother-in-law who served the country in its foreign wars, the memorials have been little more than “a day off” or an inconvenient parade. That’s to my great shame. I’ve dishonored the men and women of valor who have served so sacrificially… and more tragically, I’ve dishonored the God of all creation who has acted providentially through these brave souls. I’ve neglected my own soul in failing to remember the mighty works of God in all things.

Reflecting on the day, my mind was drawn back to John Flavel’s little book The Mystery of Providence. Flavel spends a good bit of time in that book meditating on the spiritual implications of remembering. In particular, he says that meditating on or actively remembering God’s providence is a duty.

It is plain that this is our duty because the neglect of it is everywhere in Scripture condemned as a sin. To be careless and unobservant is very displeasing to God, and so much appears by that Scripture: ‘Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not see’ (Isa. 26:11). Nay, it is a sin which God threatens and denounces woe against in His Word (Ps. 28:4-5; Isa. 5:12-13). Yea, God not only threatens, but smites men with visible judgments for this sin (Job 34:26-27).

Flavel proposed that this was why the Holy Spirit “affixed notes of attention such as ‘behold’ to the narratives of the work of providence.” Flavel wrote that “All these invite and call men to a due and deep observation” of God’s providence in biblical history (Exod. 3:2, 9; 2 Kings 19:7; Ps. 9:16; Rev. 6:1-7).

The end of such meditations, remembrances, of God’s providential works is praise. “Without due observation of the works of Providence no praise can be rendered to God for any of them.” And “without this we lose the usefulness and benefit of all the works of God for us or others.” Flavel illustrates:

From providences past saints argue to fresh and new ones to come. So David: ‘The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand this Philistine’ (1 Sam. 17:37). So Paul: ‘Who hath delivered, and in whom also we trust that he will yet deliver’ (2 Cor. 1:10). If these are forgotten or not considered, the hands of faith hang down. ‘How is it that ye do not remember, neither considereth?’ (Matt. 16:9). This is a topic from which the saints have often drawn their arguments in prayer for new mercies. As when Moses prays for continued or new pardons for the people, he argues from what was past: 'As thou hast forgiven them from Egypt until now' (Num. 14:19); so the Church argues for new providences upon the same ground Moses pleaded for new pardons (Isa. 51:9-10).

Given all of this, Flavel rebukes us for failing to remember the mercies of God in His hard and kind providences.
It is a vile slighting of God not to observe what He manifests of Himself in His providences. For in all providences, especially in some, He comes near to us. He does so in His judgments… (Mal. 3:5). He comes near in mercies also… (Ps. 145:18). Yea, He is said to visit us by His providence when He corrects (Hos. 9:7), and when He saves and delivers (Ps. 106:4). These visitations of God preserve our spirits (Job. 10:12), and it is a wonderful condescension in the great God to visit us so often, ‘every morning and… every moment’ (Job 7:18). But not to take notice of it is a vile and brutish contempt of God (Is. 1:3; Zeph. 3:2). You would not do so to a man for whom you have any respect. It is the character of the wicked not to regard God’s favours (Is. 26:10) or frowns (Jer. 5:3).

Thinking through this great chapter in The Mystery of Providence reminds me that I should not be slothful in remembering. In the celebrations of Armistice, the tragedy of war and the glories of sacrifice, lies pictures of God who is a Deliverer of His people, mighty in battle, condescending to defend and provide for them. Remember how He has done that with Israel and how He does this with the “Israel of God,” the church, and how He has done, is doing, and will do in our individual lives.

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