Years from now people on earth will not talk about you and I. They won't recall our lives, rehash memories about us, or even remember us.
We will be forgotten.
Many places in the Bible show this, but this pressed me in an indirect way reading Numbers. The people of Israel are to enter the land, and God instructs the leaders of each clan divide the inheritance. After their wanderings, this is a big deal for them, and so the chief clan leaders are listed: "These are the names of the men..." (Numbers 34:19). Their names are recorded in the Bible, quoted below. (Reader, you're welcome to skimthe list below. That's part of the point! The leaders' names are in bold.)
"These are the names of the men: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.
Of the tribe of the people of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud.
Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon.
Of the tribe of the people of Dan a chief, Bukki the son of Jogli.
Of the people of Joseph: of the tribe of the people of Manasseh a chief, Hanniel the son of Ephod.
And of the tribe of the people of Ephraim a chief, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan.
Of the tribe of the people of Zebulun a chief, Elizaphan the son of Parnach.
Of the tribe of the people of Issachar a chief, Paltiel the son of Azzan.
And of the tribe of the people of Asher a chief, Ahihud the son of Shelomi.
Of the tribe of the people of Naphtali a chief, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.” (Numbers 34:19-28).
This list means little to us today. Glance over the names in bold. Besides Caleb, we forget these men. True, their names are written in the Bible. And as the leaders of their clans, we can imagine how known, respected, and admired they were by the thousands in their tribes. But now years have gone by, and even though we have their names recorded, let's be honest: they are forgotten.
Forgotten, But They Matter
Yet this does not mean they don't matter. They do—not they did, they do. They matter because, although forgotten by us, they do exist. Right now, they are conscious persons.
And being so, they see more clearly than we fame isn't important. Instead, now they see their true significance: the fact they are forever saved in Christ or forever bearing their sin in Adam. How many people knew them matters little. The clan-fame has passed. What matters is, Did they trust in the Lord, reflect his glory while on earth, and so are now in Christ in his presence—or did they not? Are they in Christ, or if they are separated from him?
What is earthly fame in comparison?
We're like them. Even if our names are recorded in some genealogy database somewhere a thousand years from now (do you feel how trivial that sounds?), we will be forgotten by this earth. It's not that we don't matter. We do. But what will be of incomparable importance forever will be if we're in Christ—if during this life we became identified with him and his fame, if we trusted, loved, and followed him as our God. Or if we did not.
Fame is fleeting like mist, but our souls are as sure as the ocean. Where then will we be? Or better, Who will we be with? Or best yet, Who are we identified forever with—Christ or Adam?
Emancipation from Fame
So, we will be forgotten. What matters forever is if we're in Christ.
But here's a daily application for those of us who do trust Christ: such a reminder that we'll be forgotten is a shout of emancipation. There's a liberating message in knowing you'll be forgotten. We're now released from the slavery to fame, since we know it won't work nor last. Our identity is in the forever famous, lastingly loved Christ.
Our lives are not meant to be lived seeking our remembrance. That won't come. But knowing that, now we're free from such futility. When fame and remembrance dominate much of our thoughts, it dims our joy. But when we know we won't be remembered, when we see God didn't design us for this purpose, when we see that being in the famous Christ matters much more—freedom comes. Then, and only then, can we forsake living for straw and live satisfied in love and obedience to wherever Christ calls us.
So may this obscure list of leaders from the Bible release you and I from such foolish, self-imposed slavery. What profits a man if he gains earthly fame? Nothing much. Ask Elidad or Kemuel (who?). If we don't know the foolishness of fame now, we will someday.
Our profit instead is to be in Christ. In him we get to live (short) lives of love, trust, and obedience to the glory of God. Living this way is weighty, wonderful, and worthwhile. This is our joy. This is what will matter to us in the thousands of years to come.