2 And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LOR . . . 11 “Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God . . . 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God. . . 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, `My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . . 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.
As humans, one of our greatest struggles has to do with the tension between remembering and forgetting. What we remember or forget can be the difference between life and death. In regards to our salvation, we find that in the Scriptures the Lord often urges us to remember (his goodness, our call to holiness, our human frailty, and so forth). Sometimes, it can be costly to forget. When we forget, we tend to ignore and neglect. Complacency sets in. We lose our guard. Soon we lose wisdom and discernment. Holy remembrance of the Lord (and our call to fellowship with him) is the source of wisdom and joy. Its opposite, forgetting, often leads to pride, folly, pain, and destruction.
Several situations and conditions of life can affect our “memory,” leading us to forget. One of these is times of material prosperity. It is clear that God is not against wealth and prosperity. But in the Scriptures, he is quick to caution against forgetting. Forgetting what? Forgetting that he is the source of our prosperity, and that in gratitude the prosperous person must humbly remember the needy and learn to share generously. In times of prosperity, it is easy to forget the Lord as the source of our blessings. An Akan saying rightly goes: Asetenapa ma awerefire, which is literally translated as: Prosperity breeds forgetfulness. It is equally easy to forget to share. That is human frailty at its “best.” The history of the Israelites is a perfect illustration of this rather common temptation. In order to give us strength and wisdom, the Lord mercifully cautions us as he did the Israelites: “Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God . . . lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God. . . Beware lest you say in your heart, `My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth (Deut 8:11-18). Amos the prophet’s warning to the rich and prosperous of his time was intended to be a wake-up call (cf. Amos 6:1-7).
Scripture is equally clear that this kind of forgetfulness has adverse implications. For the culprits in Amos’s time there was the threat of imminent deportation into exile: “Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away” (Amos 6:7). The Book of Deuteronomy (8:19) points out the implications of forgetting with equally forceful words: “And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish.”
Another striking illustration of the tension between prosperity and remembrance (and forgetfulness) is found in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man in this story falls into the same unfortunate trap. In his material prosperity, he forgot the Lazarus in his life. He failed to recognize the poverty and need of his neighbor. How the story ended should leave all of us with something to reflect on. The lesson is clear: Material prosperity is a blessing. It is an opportunity to be grateful and generous. Yet, it also can be a trap for the selfish and greedy person. Material prosperity becomes a real blessing when we remember to share. It becomes a trap when we forget to share. In his prosperity, the rich man in Luke 16 had an opportunity to make friends with Lazarus, but he lost it. He would have benefitted from the Lord’s counsel: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” Had he known!
In conclusion, let us pray for an increased awareness of the tension between material prosperity and remembrance/forgetting. In our success, prosperity, and well-being it is important to remember two things: to be grateful to God, and to share. How we handle our prosperity can be the difference between heaven and hell.
Invitation to pray:
Dear Lord, I bless you for all that I am and all that I have. In my success and prosperity, let me not forget you or my neighbor. Let me always remember your commandment that I may grow in generosity and wisdom. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.