The city was ruined.
The civilization had once been great, boasting the height of technology, architecture, and learning. Buildings and beautiful arches gleamed against the night sky. The people, sophisticated and graceful, beautiful and kind, lived peaceful days in harmony together.
And then, after a great tragedy, the city fell and its people were lost.
This occurred, of course, in a fantasy-based video game I played recently. When the city fell, I was only two thirds of the way through. But my quest wasn’t over, and so I had to periodically return to the fallen city—previously one of my favorite places in the game.
I found it unsettling.
My character walked through lush gardens with no people remaining to enjoy them. A vast, star-spattered night sky stretched over a city with empty streets, gleaming palaces built for no one. Here, a father and his children once stood: now the children were refugees, the father dead. A pair of lovers whose messages I had relayed to each other had stood in this hall; now, they had been destroyed in the tragedy. Beasts roamed. Music played, but there was no one to hear it.
How sad, I thought as I walked, surprised by the sense of mournfulness I felt for a fictional place. How sad.
I have always felt this way thinking about peoples, civilizations, and treasures lost to time. Driving through a reservation once, I felt overwhelmed by how much of the Native American people and their culture has been destroyed, lost, discarded. Languages once spoken fluently have now died, to be never spoken and heard again. More animal species have gone extinct from the earth than we can possibly imagine. Valuable heritage sites in Syria alone have been destroyed or nearly destroyed during the civil war—thinking about how much has been lost to other countries in similar wars and conflicts boggles the mind.
We have lost so much. Some of it we understand in a vague sort of way. Much of it we will never fully grasp—though I had a sense in 2019, as horrified people watched the Notre Dame cathedral burn, that we grasp an inkling of it every now and then.
But God remembers.
And God remembers what we cannot know, in our sin, what we can never recall. God knows how it was, once. God remembers Eden. God remembers walking alongside humans before sin. Before death. Before sorrow. God remembers how it all was, before.
If even a sparrow cannot fall without the knowledge of God, consider:
He knows every destroyed people-group,
every vanquished culture,
every lost tongue,
every animal and species and plant driven to extinction,
every valuable treasure lost,
every civilization destroyed,
everything beautiful thing ruined by sin and death and hatred and human carelessness.
As I played that video game, as I walked my character through the simulation of an abandoned world, it hit me so strongly it almost made me ill: God bears the knowledge of all the good and wonder and joy and marvelous in the world that has been lost. The emptying, echoing hallways, the verdant lands where people once stood, the strange magnificent animals that we can’t remember existed, the garden, all the rich treasures of a world designed and made for joy, the fullness of Eden that for many of us is simply something we imagine in our small human minds: He remembers.
We live and walk through the ruins of what once was, and we can never fully understand what that means. We live in incalculable loss, and only God can fully reckon it. Can fully bear the weight of it.
God, forgive us.
We are so small.
And yet—the great hope we are given is that in spite of it all, we are loved. In spite of it all, we are saved. And wonder of wonders, in spite of it all, everything “lost” is not lost at all.
God’s plan, even as we walk in the ruins, is in some ways unfathomable: to not simply fix what was, to not go back and tweak it until it is right, to not turn back time or to start over fresh, but to redeem it completely. To produce, from wreckage and ruins, a world in which everything broken is not only set right but transformed.
We can’t fathom, as humans, all that we have lost.
But God knows.
We can’t fathom, as humans, all that we will gain when everything is made whole.
But God can.
And I marvel at what that says about His nature.
2 thoughts on “Ancient Memory”
I enjoyed reading this. I have probably played that very game myself! I, too, experience similar feelings when I see a dystopian world portrayed somewhere. I come away feeling so sad.
Oh, I so love that you also play! That makes me smile. It is a sad feeling – always hollow. I am so glad it won’t have to be that way for always.
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