A visible reminder

Chantal J. Klingbeil, Gerald A. Klingbeil

Memories are powerful connectors to the past and often shape our present. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Memories also often move us to action and change. Memories can help us in transitions, but they can also make transitions painful.

On the sidewalk next to our conference office in Hamburg we often walk over “Stolpersteine” (or “stumbling blocks”). A “Stolperstein” is a small hand-made brass cube, about 10 by 10 by 10 centimeters (c. 4 by 4 by 4 inches), placed in the sidewalk pavement and engraved with the name of a Jewish person who lived in that particular house or area and was killed during the Nazi atrocities of the Holocaust. Some Stolpersteine carry the name of a survivor, but most of the time they remind people walking by of the victims. 

Hamburg has installed about 7,000 of these decentralized memorials.[i] These small-scale memorials are the brainchild of German artist Gunter Demnig and were first installed in the 1990s in Cologne, Germany. They soon appeared in other cities around Europe as people recognized the power of remembrance. Today, more than 100,000 Stolpersteine have been installed in 21 European countries.[ii]

We often stop in front of a door to a building close to the office and read the name and the other information about birth and death and, if available, the location where the individual was deported to and killed. It is a daily reminder of the suffering of one or two individuals who suddenly have names and who used to live in the house where the Stolperstein was installed on the sidewalk.

Biblical precedent

Memories and remembrance play an important role in Scripture. We are told to “remember the Sabbath day” in Exodus 20:8—the only commandment to begin with the verb “to remember.” God is often described as remembering the fate of one of His children—and then moves to action. He remembers Noah and the ark in Genesis 8:1, and then the flood waters begin to recede. He remembers His covenant with humanity and then gives the sign of the rainbow to visualize His commitment to this world (Gen. 9:15). He also remembers Rachel and hears her pleas for a child (Gen. 30:22). God doesn’t suffer from memory loss or lack of concentration. God’s remembrance usually is the beginning of action and change—mostly in favor of His people.

Memory and remembrance are key concepts in Psalms 105 and 106, two psalms that the English theologian Michael Wilcock describes as “non-identical twins.”[iii] Psalm 105:5 contains an invitation to Israel (and to us!) to remember God’s past goodness and blessings: “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered” (ESV). We are to recall the story of God’s grace in our lives—and the Psalm does that for Israel’s past. Psalm 106:4 sounds different, however: “Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them” (ESV). This text is part of a long list of confessions of failures in Israel’s past—their murmurings, their rebellions, their challenges to God’s sovereignty. The sequence of praise (Ps. 105) followed by confession (Ps. 106) is theologically significant. God gives us first His gift of grace—and then we can confess before Him as our heavenly Father our sins and murmurings and rebellions. Grace comes before confession.

God gives us first His gift of grace—and then we can confess before Him as our heavenly Father our sins and murmurings and rebellions. Grace comes before confession. 

We often struggle with this concept. We feel unworthy and not good enough. We wonder if we can dare to approach the mercy seat because ours is not perfection or selfless goodness. We are sinners who have recognized that we are unable to save ourselves. We need outside help. We need a Savior! Jesus recognized our dilemma in John 6:44 and offered us a clear solution: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (ESV).But this is a column about transitions—and memories. The more than 100,000 Stolpersteine in Europe remind us not only of the horrors of the Holocaust but help us to remember individuals, their names, their stories, their value. As we experience change at an unprecedented speed all around us, we can remember—as did Israel in Psalm 105—God’s goodness and mercy and blessings for us—individually and collectively. This helps us to look into the future with confidence and certainty. He who knows our names and the number of hairs on our heads is right beside us as we anticipate the greatest transition ever.

[i] More details can be found at,stolpersteine380.html.

[ii] See for more at

[iii] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), p. 128.

Chantal J. Klingbeil, Gerald A. Klingbeil

Chantal J. Klingbeil, Ph.D., and Gerald A. Klingbeil, D.Litt., have served the Adventist Church for nearly three decades internationally as professors, TV host, editor, and associate director. They now live close to the beautiful city of Hamburg, Germany, and serve in the Hanseatic Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.