Sam Chan (Ph.D., M.D.) is a theologian, preacher, and medical doctor who writes and gives talks from the Bible about life, faith and work. Sam is a public speaker for City Bible Forum and works as a doctor at the Hospital for Specialist Surgery, Bella Vista in Sydney. The following guest post is based on a talk Sam recently gave for City Bible Forum.
A driving question is “Will I be remembered?” We want to live on in people’s memories. But where does this urge come from?
First, by being remembered, it means our lives have left a lasting significance. We didn’t just eat, sleep and pay the bills. We managed to touch the lives of those around us.
This is the point of ceremonies like Memorial Day. By commemorating previous generations of soldiers, we are saying that we are who we are because of their sacrifices and bravery.
And deep down, although we may not have made the same level of sacrifices, we feel that if we can be remembered, then we too are being honored by those we’ve left behind.
But, second, there is a God-given urge to be remembered. Ecclesiastes 3 says that God has placed “Eternity” in our hearts. So we will have an urge to connect with what is eternal and transcendent.
Without eternity, our lives are just one blip on the timeline of the universe. But, if we can be remembered, somehow our lives can live on and connect with “Eternity.”
But, there are obvious problems. First, as Kyle has pointed out, this attempt to be remembered can be quite futile.
At my 20 year High School reunion I met some people that I couldn’t recognize. Their faces were wider, their bellies were bigger, and their hair was thinner. All that was recognizable were their eyeballs! But, worse, there were people that I just didn’t remember. It wasn’t that I couldn’t recognize them. I didn’t even remember them existing.
My parents have a photo of me, as a baby, sitting on the lap of my great grandfather. I’m sure he was a nice man. But I have no memory of him.
I live in a city called Sydney. We are named after a guy called Lord Sydney. Yet no-one in Sydney knows if
he was a nice man or not. Was he a family man? Did he have children? We don’t know. And yet we live in a world city named after him. We say his name every day.
As a doctor, our surgical instruments are named after famous doctors. The Gillies forceps. The Langenbeck retractor. The Mollison’s retractor. We say their names every day. Yet we don’t know who these doctors were. We don’t have any fond memories of them.
Ecclesiastes 9:13-16 also talks about a man who must’ve been brave and wise. He managed to save a whole city from a larger, more superior army. But no-one remembers him.
Second, and worse, by trying to be remembered we might drive away those we love.
I can get a library named after me. Or a grant. Or a scholarship. Or I can discover a disease and have it named after me. Or I can get a textbook named after me.
But in doing so, I’m not around for my children. My partner will feel neglected. So, I might leave behind a memory, but I also end up alienating those I love.
Or I can try to create the trophy family. Sacrifice my life for my children so that they can be special, privileged and advantaged. They will have the latest gadgets and toys. They will have the best tutors and musical instruments. But when they grow up to be doctors and lawyers they won’t visit or call. Or let me see my grandchildren. Because they will feel like they were just my project. My legacy. Never allowed to be themselves.
So the great irony is by trying to be remembered, we might be remembered but not treasured by those we love.
So what’s the Bible’s solution? Ecclesiastes 12 twists it around. Don’t try to be remembered. Instead remember God.
And we know from the Bible’s story-line, that if we remember God, then he remembers us. And he will raise us from the dead and give us the “Eternity” that our hearts long for.
Sam Chan, Ph.D. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Keep an eye out for Sam’s new book coming out in 2016: The Preached Gospel as the Word of God
Image Source (slightly cropped)