The most important turnings are finished almost before we have had the presence of mind to notice.
And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10 ESV)
There is no correlation between the cost of a society’s abandonment of its accumulated legacy and the speed with which its people can mindlessly leave behind that treasure.
You might think a turning of such magnitude would require long generations of accumulated decisions. It does not. Nothing more than a single distracted generation is sufficient for the turning. Then all that has been discovered, constructed, sowed, cherished, watered, and repainted every second year against the blazing sun is gone. It is the grandchildren who will wonder what we were thinking, how we could have let this happen. Or perhaps as children of their age they will assume the herd truth that the abandoned way was retrograde, regrettable, embarrassing, oppressive.
If the book of Judges teaches anything, it is the speed with which self-absorbed vanity has its effect.
And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. (Judges 2:12 ESV)
Yet there is also this measure of grace in the book’s assessment the ancient Israelites’s plight:
Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. (Judges 2:18 ESV)
Still, the picture is almost entirely an unredeemed one.
Forgetting, we are taught, twists minds. When a society loses its grip on YHWH’s mercies—the deep mercies embedded in its history—it soon degrades women, children, and the weak. It goes a little crazy. Then a little more. Then the blood of innocents stains its streets, while unanimously celebrated theories explain why this isn’t such a bad thing.
Forgetfulness begets murder and murderers, cultured and confused self-seekers with no conscience to restrain them, while grandpa’s righteous body rests barely cold in its grave.
However terrible, forgetfulness is not inevitable. Like all virtues and most vices, it is chosen in a moment, then repeated over time.
So run to your children. Gather up the grandkids. Tell them what YHWH has done. Find words for the fearsome story of the long trek north from Egypt’s slave-houses. Show them your rough-healed welts, your sleeve-hid scars. Tell them what it felt like the moment you realized that the boss-man’s whip would crack no more, tear no more, its silence become liberation’s quiet song. Teach them to remember.