This past Sunday Kim and I taught a seminar here in Denver with a room filled with friends of ours who are recent refugees and immigrants from Central Africa. One of the things we talked about was the cultural adaptation of different generations to a new culture. I told of my own heritage, and my great-great-grandfather August Fleischmann who was the first generation of my family to come to this new land of opportunity. That’s the earliest name I know in my family.
I asked my African friends to think back to how many generations they could remember in their own families. Some could remember two – others four or five. But one man was able to recall from memory twelve generations. Coming to the front he wrote his own name on the board and then went backwards with the name of his father, his grand-father, and his great-grandfather to the twelfth generation. It was remarkable to see him recount all those forefathers, stretching back hundreds of years.
- How many generations of names can you remember?
Go ahead. Stop and try it right now!
I then asked them to do one more thing. How ever many generations they could remember back, I told them to extend it forward. If they could remember three generations back, then extend it forward to their great-grandchildren. If four generations, extend it to their great-great-grandchildren. Then I said, “If history were to repeat itself, these will be the last in your own family line who will remember your name too.”
- If history repeats itself, what will be the last generation of your descendants who will remember your name?
It’s a sobering thought when you put it like that, isn’t it? Although I might like to think of myself as a pretty big deal, if my own experience is any indicator, my children’s great-grandchildren will be the last members of my own family who will even know what my name was.
This reality strikes us so deeply because it is one of our most fundamental desires as human beings – this inherent longing to be remembered after we are gone. We may ignore it for much of our lives, but as we near our end, or seriously picture our end, inevitably this desire is there. Whether it’s through devoted family, grateful friends, noteworthy accomplishment or impact…we want there to be something enduring that will keep our memory alive and our name spoken after we have passed on.
We are realists though. We must concede that eventually, given enough time, our name will be uttered for the last time. Even if they carve my name into marble upon a university building, eventually that building will crumble. Even if it is recorded in history books, eventually those books will be read no more. Even if they still mention me twelve generations from now, eventually a generation will come that no longer remembers.
God knows that this is one of our deepest and final desires of life – to have our names remembered. He also knows that our very best efforts to ensure this, eventually, will fail. And faith always means relying completely on God to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves.
This is why it is so significant that, from cover to cover in the Bible, one of the most central promises of God is to give to those who trust in Him a NAME that will never be forgotten. Contrary to the curse of dying and having a name that is erased (Psalm 41:5) God offers the blessing that our name will endure as long as the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 66:22).
The whole literary theme of the book of Revelation, at the very end of the Bible, is built around the idea of a mysteriously Great Book that no one on heaven or earth can open, except One – the Lamb that was slain. For chapter after chapter the seven seals are broken on this Great Book until, in chapter twenty, finally it opens. When the cover turns, and the reader at long last is able to peer inside, what is written upon the pages?
Recorded there are the NAMES of every last person who ever trusted God to keep His Promise. And though they may not have been uttered on earth by a living soul for centuries, God has remembered them and held onto every single one for this grand day of resurrection.
Having someone remember your name after you are gone may be closer to the very center of Christian faith than you ever realized. It is something for which we instinctively long, ultimately cannot accomplish for ourselves, but if we will only trust in His promise, God will do for us by sheer grace:
Names, Long Remembered.