I wrote earlier this week about how the cancel culture is very short on grace and forgiveness. A person’s past has always been fodder for ridicule, shame, and exclusion by those seeking to feel superior in their own righteousness. Yet, it seems God has a different view of our pasts. He says through the prophet Isaiah,
This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. (Isaiah 43:17-21)
He goes on to say in verse 25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
There are several applications to our lives from this and other passages about God’s radical forgiveness. First, if God commands us to stop focusing on the past, what we’ve done, then we would do well to obey. So many of us are stuck in guilt and shame over our pasts, or we may also be stuck in our past successes, which have led us to grow stale in our lives. Who are we to hold onto those things rather than moving on to what the Lord wants to do next in our lives?
Secondly, if we’re to let go of our own pasts, it seems logical that we let go of the pasts of others which have affected us in some way. I remember the story Corrie ten Boom told of the time she was speaking in a church. After the meeting, she saw coming up the aisle to greet her a smiling man she recognized as one of her guards at the German concentration camp where she and her sister spent several years. Physically, she froze, but her mind was racing. Hate rose up within her. But she quickly realized if she was going to live out what she had just preached, she would have to extend her hand in fellowship to this man, who obviously had changed since the war. She says once she made that decision, her heart filled with forgiveness and love towards him.
In life, there will be many who hurt us. Grudges and bitterness will form easily, particularly if the harm occurred before we came to know the Lord. Yet, we cannot serve the Lord fully if we hold onto the bitterness and are unwilling to forgive. “Forgetting the past” does not mean literally forgetting; rather it means our focus needs to shift to what the Lord is doing now. A shift of focus keeps the past neutralized so that we can fully devote ourselves to the Lord.
Finally, the recognition that the Lord does not hold our pasts against us should lead us to treat others similarly. As I wrote earlier, many in the world want to bind people to their pasts. What you did is who you are; thus, one’s past disqualifies a person from a position, access, or privilege. Yet who are we to hold onto unforgiveness if the person has repented? And is this not what Jesus came to do—free us from our sinful pasts?
Imagine if we actually took God at his word, forgetting the past and turning our attention to what he is doing and wants to do in our lives and those of others. It would be a vastly different world.
© Jim Musser All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.