Q&A: How does God want us to look at the past?
One thing every human being has in common is a past. We have all experienced life in its various forms throughout the years—some wonderful and some painful. The good experiences are pretty easy to handle. But the painful experiences present us with a host of problems that continue to challenge modern man. The question is continually asked: “How do I deal with my past?” And although people have come up with all kinds of theories, Christians should be wary of methods of dealing with the past which have no biblical foundation. And the reason for this caution is because your past can become either a miry pit, trapping you and keeping you from recognizing and enjoying the blessings of God, or it can be a learning ground of experience that can deepen your understanding and shape your character.
The Past is a Teacher
There are times in God’s Word that the Lord counsels His people to consider the events of the past. He does this so that the lessons of the past might shed light on their current situation. Here’s one example:
Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned; your spokesmen rebelled against me. (Isaiah 43:26-27 NIV)
In this passage the Lord is calling His people to draw insight from the events of the past—in this case by remembering mankind’s original sin through Adam, thus helping them to recognize how sin has separated them from God. And there are other references to remembering the past so as to learn valuable lessons from it. In this way, the past can be a wonderful “instructor.”
Dwelling on the Past
While there is a place and time to recollect the events of the past to gain a heart of wisdom, there is also a time to just let it go—release it. In the same book that we drew the earlier Scripture passage, we see the Lord saying something else about dealing with the past. Here He says:
“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 desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)
Here is an important word from the Lord on the dangers of focusing too much on the past. After a strong exhortation to forget the former things, the Lord says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it?” This question is vital to understanding how dwelling on the past affects us. The fact is, when we are mired in the thoughts and events of the past, wallowing in the hurts and pain of yesterday, we become oblivious to the “new” things the Lord is doing all around us. That’s why God asks, “Do you not perceive it?” The perceptions of someone who struggles with letting go of the past, literally become dulled—keeping them from “seeing” the good things the Lord is doing all around them.
Only God can make a way where there seems to be no way. But we must get our eyes off the past and fasten them upon the power of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us to: “...fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (12:2 NIV) This cannot be done when our eyes are fixed on our past.
Letting Go of Hurts
Modern psychology suggests that the way to be healed of your past is to go back and “relive” those events. God, on the other hand, tells us to learn from them, and let them go! The problem is, sometimes our past is full of painful memories which can be very hard, if not impossible to forget. And those who cannot forget the past, usually cannot come to a place of forgiving those who had a hand in shaping their past. Forgiveness and releasing those who’ve hurt us is the key.
The good news is that God doesn’t expect us to conquer our past all by ourselves. Your loving heavenly father is the One who longs to take your past and bring healing and wholeness to the wounds you’ve received. The question is whether or not you are willing to let go and forgive!
Notice in the following passage how the Apostle Paul refers to his Lord:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
Paul called God “...the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…” What a recommendation! But how many Christians today truly know God in this way? How many have opened up their hearts to the Lord and allowed Him to bring His perfect comfort into the wounded and darkened areas of their heart? I would suggest the number is quite low, and so we see the Body of Christ running after “other” methods of bringing healing to their tortured souls. What a tragedy! If we would only release, forgive and move on.
One woman who was all too familiar with tragedy and unforgiveness was Corrie ten Boom. Corrie lived during WWII and personally experienced the horror of the Nazi invasion of her homeland of Holland. Corrie, her sister, and their elderly father were all arrested by the Nazis—charged with hiding Jews. She and her sister, Betsy, were taken to a German concentration camp, where they were exposed to the most horrific conditions imaginable. Betsy finally died in that hellish concentration camp, but through a cleric’s error, Corrie was released.
After the war, Corrie opened a home to minister to the people who had been so shamefully and tragically treated by the Nazis. She observed one common element in those who were able to heal from the events of those horrible years. She wrote: “Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.” (Tramp for the Lord p. 55)
May the Lord give you the strength today to give Him your past.