People sometimes tell me how lucky I am to have a good memory (so far.) It's not all luck: for example, at the age of 16 I decided to memorise my National Insurance number, and since then I have also committed to memory my bank account number and sort code. It saves rifling through your cluttered handbag or age-old files, only to emerge red-faced when you can't find the scrap of paper you know you wrote it on. Memorising things, such as chunks of Shakespeare, was something we did at school, especially if we are of a certain age. 'The quality of mercy...'
In the Old Testament the Israelites were repeatedly exhorted to remember, in particular God's mighty acts of deliverance. 'Make certain that you do not forget, as long as you live, what you have seen with your own eyes,' they are told in Deuteronomy 4. 'Search the past...the Lord has shown you this, to prove that he alone is God and that there is no other.' The psalms are also full of warnings not to forget: 'Remember what the Holy One has done...'
Having a good memory for random facts doesn't prevent me from forgetting what might be thought of as more important. In recent years I have had the task of clearing my parents' house, and I discovered a trunkful of my diaries. Not only had I forgotten their content - perhaps forgivable after 40 years - I had even forgotten having kept them at all. One volume covered the last three months of 1975, and is full of life's commonplaces: I was living at home, my brother was still alive, my father was working, and I had a full complement of aunts and uncles. Reading this slight record opened my eyes to so much I had forgotten: not just the facts but the flavour of that time. I found this rather worrying, since as writers we rely so much on memory, and it reminded me of the value of journal-keeping.
In the New Testament we find different instructions: 'So, then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way..' says the writer to the Hebrews. 'Let us run with determination the race that is before us.' 'I run straight for the finishing line,' says St Paul in 2 Corinthians; and with even more emphasis in Philippians 3, '...the one thing I do...is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead.'
Of course, there is no real contradiction here. If my memory starts to deteriorate, as it probably will as I age, I hope to remember those two things: God's untold blessings to me and all creation; and the need to keep focused on the finishing-post. The day may come when I remember nothing, so I am thankful that God does not forget. One of the most touching, humbling and reassuring lines of Scripture comes from Psalm 103: 'He knows what we are made of; he remembers that we are dust.' Whatever happens to our human brains, we are safe in God's memory.
Sue Russell, writing as S.L.Russell, is the author of four contemporary novels from a Christian viewpoint, all now published by New Generation: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth, The Land of Nimrod (The Leviathan Trilogy) and most recently A Shed in a Cucumber Field. A fifth stand-alone novel, An Iron Yoke, is at the editing stage. She lives in Kent with her husband, two adult daughters and Rosie the dog and when not writing, reading, gardening or visiting her crumbling pile in France is an amateur singer and church organist.