Forgetting To Move Forward
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV)
When I was younger, I worked in a mental health institute. But I was not a patient, as some might believe. I worked in the pharmacy. As an employee, I often heard when a wealthy, well-known resident of Chattanooga was admitted for shock therapy. Shock therapy, also known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), is a controversial therapy used for depression and psychiatric illnesses. The institute used this treatment with the goal of helping someone forget a trauma or other events that could lead to depression or other mental illnesses. Wouldn’t it be nice to have every painful experience and all your regrets wiped from your memory never to think of them again? Of course it would be great—if it worked! Even if shock therapy could erase the memory of painful experiences, it would not erase the fact those events really happened. Is it possible to forget the past? I do not believe you can forget, but I do believe you can forgive. Unless you have dealt with painful memories, you cannot understand how difficult it is to find joy in your present because of the pain of past.
No one understood how difficult it was to live with past regrets more than Paul. Paul began to discover his mistakes on the road to Damascus. As Paul journeyed toward Damascus intending to kill followers of Jesus, Jesus shone a light around Paul that physically blinded him. Although he was blinded physically, the eyes of Paul’s heart were opened to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah. Can you imagine how Paul must have felt when he discovered he had been wrong for so long? Paul was led to Damascus and reflected on what happened to him as well as what he had allowed to happen to others. Paul was a murderer and the blood of many Christians was on his hands. Paul was passionate about his religion, but he had been wrong about his God. I believe the faces of every murdered Christian and the face of Stephen came to Paul’s mind. How could Paul—or anyone—forget what once was believed to be truth and realize it was really a lie?
How do you find the faith to trust again? How do you forgive yourself? One of the many mysteries and riches of God is He supplies what He requires. Jesus in us gives us the ability to forgive others—and ourselves—and sustains us with the faith to believe. When we forgive and accept God’s forgiveness, we are released from the control of our past, but the memories remain. When I look back on my past and truly understood God’s forgiveness, I am able to see God weaving my past with my present to create His future plan for me. The weaving of the past with the present enables me to see the past working together for my good. It doesn’t make sin good; instead, it shows me how good God is. This truth allows us to move forward and replace a memory full of regrets with God’s forgiveness. Otherwise, past mistakes will impact present decisions, which in turn controls our future direction.
I believe Paul struggled with the face of Stephen and the memory of every Christian he persecuted. For this very reason, God told Paul to forget his past, and reach forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). In turn, Paul wrote the message he learned during his darkest days to the churches in the New Testament. Paul spoke with authority because he spoke from experience. Paul’s new focus was to know Christ rather than to know why certain things happened. As Paul found, we may never know why, but we can know Christ.
Paul did not know God would allow his past mistakes to help Christians 2,000 years later. I believe God wants to use the very things we learn in our darkest days to bring light to others. However, for God to use us, we must take our eyes off our past and reach forward to what God wants to do in and through us—using the past to create a better today and purpose for the future.
Further Reading Acts 9