Many times a new concept appears in the scientific literature, and when we look at it, we see that it is something that the Bible has already described. A recent example of this is a concept given by social psychologist Daniel Wegner called transactive memory.
Transactive memory is defined as “a shared system for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” Wegner explains this concept in this way: “People in close relationships know many things about each other’s memories. One partner may not know where to find candles around the house, for instance, but may still be able to find them in a blackout by asking the other partner where the candles are. Each partner can enjoy the benefits of the pair’s memory by assuming responsibility for remembering just those items that fall clearly to him or to her and then by attending to the categories of knowledge encoded by the partner so that items within those categories can be retrieved from the partner when they are needed. Such knowledge of one another’s memory areas takes time and practice to develop, but the result is that close couples have an implicit structure to carrying out the pair’s memory tasks.”
Psychologists are using this concept to help people dealing with the death of a spouse. As a person who has gone through that experience, I can testify that when your wife of 49 years dies, a part of you seems to die too. Panic attacks after the death of a spouse are common, and that is when you suddenly are faced with having lost a large part of your memory.
Bible readers will recognize this “new” concept. In the Old Testament, a variety of transactive memory devices were commanded and put in place by God. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 12, 20; Exodus 13:14; and Joshua 4:6 are all cases where devices such as writing history on door posts were given to help remember the past and teach children the value of a culture. The various feasts of Israel in Exodus 23:15-16 were transactive memory devices.
In the New Testament, the congregation was developed as a transactive device. Acts 2:41-47 shows transactive memory helping the first century Church. James 5:14-16 described congregational conduct in various circumstances in life. The Bible itself is a transactive device as it is described in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
One of the problems with megachurches is that much of the transactive memory value of the local congregation is lost. It is hard to pray for or to encourage someone you don’t know. Death is of little meaning if you don’t know the person. The congregational conduct discussed in Hebrews 10:22 is difficult in a huge congregation.
When Jesus prayed for unity, He gave us something that can sustain us in every stage of life and in every crisis. We defeat that blessing when we make entertainment the focus of our worship and when we don’t build relationships that allow transactive memory to function. Transactive memory may be new to the world of social psychology, but it is as old as the Bible itself.
–John N. Clayton © 2017