“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5 NKJV).
The movie “The Monuments Men” tells the story of a group of art experts charged by Franklin Roosevelt with a mission to retrieve art that Hitler and the German army has stolen and to return as much as they can to its rightful owners. A number of skeptics denigrate the effort to send men into harm’s way over art, but the lead character, played by George Clooney, responds “If you destroy a (people’s) history, you destroy their achievements, and it’s as if they never existed.” Art, as a representation of a people’s culture, history, veneration, and dreams, was therefore important to preserve and return.
I’ve never thought of sculptures and paintings as “monuments;” rather, I believe monuments are things set up to keep alive the memory of a person or event. The original historical documents of our country seem like monuments to me—the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, for example, or the Old North Church in Boston memorializing Paul Revere’s midnight ride—these all serve to connect our present with our past and are important in both preserving our history and shaping the future.
The Bible includes important stories that conclude with a monument being established so that future generations will not forget an encounter with God and his will and purpose. The book of Deuteronomy admonished the Israelites to observe and to keep “all the days of their lives” (Deuteronomy 6:2b NKJV) the Ten Commandments of God and the Golden Rule. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NKJV). Both Moses and Joshua established monuments to serve as perpetual reminders of the people’s promises to God, and his to them (cf. Deuteronomy 27:2 and Joshua 4:3). God instituted the Passover celebration in memorial of his passing over the Jewish people the night he sent the angel to kill all of the firstborn of Egypt. And Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as a reminder to future generations of his sacrifice and our salvation.
After Katrina devastated New Orleans, those that rode out the storm and those that fled alike had to endure many hardships and wounds. Clearly, those who lost loved ones suffered deeply. Others lost homes, jobs, and a way of life. And for too many people, the flood waters and the storm robbed them of photographs and memorabilia that were irreplaceable. The city has largely been rebuilt, and no monument has been erected, but the loss of life and lifetimes stand as monuments in abstentia to the people of New Orleans.
A friend of mine, Roger Hall, Ph.D., in his book Expedition (Arete Press) notes that adversity is God’s anvil in shaping human character. I believe he is right, although I know some people struggle with attributing suffering of any sort to God. Some even choose to not believe in God since by observation it is clear the world is dangerous, and our very lives are so seldom under our own control that they reason no god would allow “that” (whatever “that” is) to go on if he were truly loving and all powerful. Maturity of faith requires each person to probe deeply the power, used and withheld, by our God. But this, too, helps to shape and refine us—building our character.
How do you memorialize your journey through this life? What things are worth remembering, sharing, dissecting, and even leaving behind?
Rick Warren has become quite famous through his book The Purpose Driven Life in which he asserts clearly that our life’s purpose is best found in God—that “it” is not about us—“it” is about God. I understand his point and even agree with it (cf. Matthew 22:37-40), yet I also believe “it” is also about us, or God would not have given his Son so that we could live and be reconciled to him. It is difficult to try and simplify profound and universal truths.
Your memories and memorabilia are about you, but they can also be about your relationship with others, including God. And they can chronicle how you have been molded on God’s anvil to become the person of faith and hope and love that you are today. In this regard they are vital to create, preserve, and contemplate.
From time to time (really, in some respects all the time), my business goes through periods of trial where valuable resources of money or people or time are in short supply. I have been shaped over the last fourteen years by those times of trial and testing, and to ensure that I remember them, I have kept a journal as a memorial of God’s work in my life. Recently, another time of testing has come upon us. Recording my current prayers and concerns in my journal, I also looked back to see historical entries from times of other struggles. Here is what I wrote in January 2013:
“You will not despise the weak and lowly. Come quickly to my aid, O God, and hear me when I call. Bring your victory because I cannot. On you and you alone I rely. So, I put on your armor against this day’s attack and potential for evil. With you comes victory. I will not be moved. I rejoice also in the sound of battle because it calls me back to you. In your presence I am who I am supposed to be. I enjoy peace and safety. I become me.”
If you haven’t prepared your own Monuments of God’s work in your life, let me urge you to begin. Only good things come from writing down our hopes and fears, because God is trustworthy and true, and he has good plans for you, plans for hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).