Recency Bias and Remembrance


“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt…” When God speaks to the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament, He often issues this reminder or some variation thereof. I was somewhere deep into an inductive course studying the Old Testament when I realized that God seemed almost obsessive in His reminders to the Israelites of their former slave status and His deliverance. In fact, God starts to remind His people of these things just forty years after they happened in Moses’ instructions to the people in Deuteronomy. “Why is God so repetitive?” I asked myself. Why are the people prone to forget such an important event in their own history?

Recency bias is a term that I first became aware of as someone who follows sports; it is also commonly used in investing and even politics. Recency bias is simply the act of remembering the most recent occurrences more favorably than historic ones, and giving added weight to the things that happened most recently. The things of our most recent memory displace those that are from years ago. It seems as though God had to continually remind the Israelites of their deliverance from Egypt, because even the ancients suffered from recency bias. There were many acts built into the culture and religious practices of the Jewish people that were designed to remind the people of God’s goodness and faithfulness to His people. For this same reason we as Christians practice communion—as Jesus commanded, “do this in remembrance of me.” We must even be reminded periodically of the foundational aspects of our faith.

As I was preparing to write this, the phrase “a history of forgetting” came into my head. I wasn’t sure where I had heard it before. A quick Google search produced a couple of books titled with this same phrase. This saying is brilliant in it’s contradiction and it’s accuracy. We as humans forget. We even forget things of great significance. Forgetting is built into our history. We forget and often repeat the mistakes of our collective past. We need reminders. It is why we preserve all manner of things to connect us to the past. To answer the oft asked question, “how did we get here?”

2020 and the first half of 2021 have produced much that we would like to forget, and that we likely will soon forget. We, at least in the US, have seemed to turn the corner in many ways on the crisis that has consumed a year and a half. Some have lost much, much more than others. There will be trauma and grief that may not completely subside in their lifetime for those who have lost the most. For some, life will quickly return to some semblance of normalcy and 2020-21 will soon be mostly forgotten. We will move on and our memories will be short. 

The narrative of the Old Testament is about a God who is faithful to his forgetful people. In the brightest and darkest days of the history of Israel, God was consistent. He was faithful. He was always with his people. It was why He gave them the tabernacle, and later the temple—reminders of His continuous presence with His people. God has been with us, His people now, throughout our lives, even our 2020-21. Do not forget. Find ways to remember how He delivered you through this difficult time. Take time for remembrance, it is a good thing. 

#remembrance #recencybias #historyofforgetting #donotforget #faithfulness #gratitude #OldTestament #presence #normalcy #Godwithus

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