I don’t know many people who live entirely without regrets. Unless we’ve been blessed with a significant bump on the head, most of us carry around memories we’d rather forget. But it is up to us to decide whether we strain our muscles dragging this baggage around or whether we unpack our issues and deal with them. (We can always repack, right?)
In Chapter 8 of the Book of John, Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, and some teachers brought in a woman who had been caught cheating on her husband. They made her stand in front of everyone and they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
Have you ever felt like this woman? I know I have. Not that anyone has ever attempted to stone me, thank God, but I’ve had metaphorical rocks hurled at me plenty of times. Do you know what Jesus said to her accusers? He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The teachers wandered off and the woman stood where she was, until Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
There are many lessons to be taken from this simple story. First of all, Jesus calls the teachers out: Hey, we all have a past. We all have issues. Every one of you has something you’d rather not share. Then he tells the unnamed woman, “I do not condemn you.” This might not have meant as much to her then as it does to us now. We don’t know whether or not she was aware that she was receiving a pardon from God Himself. But we can look at this scene and know that Christ was saying to this woman, “I am not judging you, go on now, get on with your life, and stop cheating on your husband.”
Can this apply to any mistakes we’ve made in our pasts? Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross so that we could be forgiven our sins. If we wallow in unnecessary, harmful guilt, then we are not fully accepting His sacrifice, His selfless gift. If He wanted us to feel guilty, to spend time, and muscle power, dragging that baggage around, He wouldn’t have made the ultimate sacrifice. He gave His life to buy our freedom. Our freedom from sin, our freedom from death, and our freedom from our own pasts. Later on in this same chapter, Christ says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus Christ is this Truth.
So, you’re asking, what about those of us who have suffered due to no fault of our own? Yes, painful things certainly happen to innocent people. Victims of disease, oppression, rape, child abuse, adultery, the list goes on. Life is not fair.
Faith is easier said than done. It is difficult for those who have truly suffered to believe that their suffering can lead to a greater purpose. In the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 1, Verse 11, the Apostle Paul writes, “In him we are also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” Believers are chosen by God. Sometimes, when we are suffering, or when we have suffered, we wish we hadn’t been chosen, but the truth is, it feels good to be chosen, especially when we are able and willing to believe that our suffering, our pain, is going to work out for the purpose of His will. God is love. God’s will leads to love, even if there are some unlovely bumps in the road.
Writer George Bernard Shaw wrote, “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well teach it to dance.” This is an apt metaphor for creativity, and that’s how this quote is usually interpreted, but it also reminds me of God’s Will. Oftentimes, we are able to use our past, our mistakes, or our time spent as innocent victims, to love others, to glorify God. Recovering alcoholics can minister to those struggling with alcoholism. Ex-convicts can go minister in the jails. Rape victims can counsel other rape victims.
Suffering is difficult, but we need to know that God is not judging us. Psalm 103 reads, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” That’s a long way! That’s infinity! God has forgiven us. In light of His sacrifice, it is the least we can do to forgive ourselves. He has also asked us to use everything in our power for His glory. Is it possible to use your past to bless others? Is this the way to truly be free of it?