Men Have Forgotten God
During my first week of college, way back in the Fall of 1985, I was browsing around in the library and ran across a three-volume set of books titled The Gulag Archipelago. The author’s name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I read a few pages and took the first volume to the librarian’s counter to borrow it. Without any prompting from me, the librarian proceeded to tell me in a somewhat condescending tone that I would never finish volume one, much less all three volumes. That might have been true had he not said that, but because he did say it, I took it as a challenge and proceeded to read all three volumes. I’m glad I did. This is one of the greatest works of the twentieth century. In it, Solzhenitsyn, who lived under Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union, describes his life in the labor camps known as the Gulag.
After completing these volumes, I began to look for other works written by Solzhenitsyn. This was more challenging before the Internet, but I found numerous novels, essays, speeches, and short stories. One of Solzhenitsyn’s most powerful speeches is the Templeton Address he gave on May 10, 1983. The speech is available online, and I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. He begins by pointing out what he believes is the reason for the calamities his homeland experienced.
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
What he says here is as true of other nations as it is of nations such as Russia. “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”
This is true, however, not only of the twentieth century. The history of man since the fall has been the history of men forgetting God.
Throughout the OT, Israel is called to remember God (e.g., Exod. 3:15; Deut. 8:18). They are warned not to forget God (Deut. 6:12; 8:11, 14, 19; Job 8:13). But what happens over and over again? They forget God. Look at what Isaiah says to Israel:
For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
in a day of grief and incurable pain. (17:10–11)
Isaiah is saying to Israel what Solzhenitsyn said about Russia in the 1980s. You have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.
But it is not only Israel who forgets God. The pagan nations have forgotten God as well (Psalm 9:17). This is why they worship the gods of their imagination. This is why they set up idols. The nations have not only forgotten God, they rage against God (Psalm 2:1). The most foolish among them say "There is no God" (Psalm 14:; 53:1).
The only really surprising thing is that Christians sometimes seem surprised by this. Why should we be surprised when men forget God and rage against God and deny the existence of God? Acting sinfully is what fallen people do. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what fallen people need.
It's certainly what we who are now followers of Christ needed. We too were enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). We too acted sinfully by forgetting God, raging against God, and denying God. Or have you forgotten?
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1–10).
When we look around and see men who have forgotten God, what we are looking at is ourselves before God graciously saved us. When we look around and see men who have forgotten God, our response must not be to boast: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men," men who have forgotten God (Luke 18:11). We need instead to examine our own hearts first. Those of us who are followers of Christ sometimes forget that we were also men who had forgotten God. "Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ" (Ephesians 2:12).
And remember that Christ didn't leave us in that condition. Christ had compassion. Christ came to seek us and to save us. When we had forgotten God, God sent His Son, and the Word who was with God and who was God became flesh and dwelt among us.
*Image by Tim Hill from Pixabay