In a Colin Ray song, the lyrics state that we are not “prisoners of the past”. What a refreshing thought the idea of escaping from the past is. How many times have you heard the old expression: “Ones who forget the past are forced to repeat it.” While there may be some element of truth to this widely accepted statement, to live largely in the past is a curse to living in the present and it also stifles preparation for the future. Many of the world’s problems are caused by individuals and groups who live with their hopes and aims focused on conditions and events from previous times. Some want to return to past comforts or glories. Others want to receive recompense or vengeance for wrongs committed in by-gone years by someone or some group. Mentally reliving the past often leaves no emotional energy for personally dealing with the present.
In addition to the above, there is still another way in which many are “imprisoned by the past”. That is through their own personal guilt and remorse over past mistakes and sins. Failure in jobs, broken relationships, fits of anger and pettiness, personal lies and deceit, and even felonious activities weigh on the minds and hearts of many of us.
I believe that the essence of the Gospel message as presented by Christ was the idea that mankind can escape his or her past. That escape comes through the forgiveness and forgetfulness of God. God has promised not only to forgive our past mistakes but also to cast them into the depths of the sea (Hebrews 8:12). When God forgives, he forgets. The common notion that God is keeping a scorecard on each of us for some future reckoning does not square with this type of forgiveness. The often stated idea of forgiving but not forgetting is a clearly manmade concept.
If God is willing to forgive and forget all of our mistakes, if he enables us to start over fresh each day; then truly each of us can escape our past in a very real sense. The message of Christ is that everyone is in the same boat; there are no morally superior among us. No man’s past is too big for God’s love. Forgiveness is an ongoing process in God’s plan not a once and done event. Though we all appear very flawed in the eyes of one another, to God we are the objects of love, deserving of all the forbearance that love implies (I Corinthians 13). If each of us is the object of God’s love and therefore the recipients of his promised forgiveness, then just maybe we can recognize ourselves as being worthy of our own forgiveness. Just maybe we can forget and escape the past that has haunted lives and sapped our joy.