Monday, February 25, 2019

The Fickle Finger of the Unforgiving Past

“Your sins will find you out!” This ancient adage rings as true today as ever. Newspaper headlines and daily news broadcasts have affirmed this in recent days. Racist comments made decades ago; similarly insensitive costumes that were worn in years past; instances of sexual harassment and, worse yet, sexual assault. All have risen out of the ashes of personal history to haunt elected officials, candidates for public office, business executives, Hollywood celebrities, and even some religious leaders.

Misdeeds of the past have a disconcerting way of re-emerging to disrupt the dreams and ambitions of people seeking to gain positions of public trust.

This sobering warning actually originated with Moses, speaking to the Reubenites and Gadites, two of the tribes of Israel. They wanted to settle on one side of the Jordan River with their families and livestock while the rest of the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan, where they intended to establish their new homes. According to the Old Testament, the soldiers of Reuben and Gad vowed to first join their fellow Israelites in taking the land God had promised to them, before returning to the other side of the river.

After being persuaded the Reubenites and Gadites were sincere, not seeking to escape their obligations, Moses warned, "But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

Thinking about this, I’m reminded we can’t undo the past, no matter how much we’d like to do so. Not one of us would want our lifetime collection of warts, flaws and poor choices openly displayed for public review. Poor or unwise judgment and behavior in the past are like getting tattoos. They seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect we can’t help but wonder, “What was I thinking?”

King Solomon wisely observed, “There is not a righteous man on earth, who does right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The apostle Paul, once notorious as a zealous enemy of Christians, piggybacked on Solomon’s declaration, then elaborated when he wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

After Paul continued his harsh appraisal of the natural state of humankind, he finally asserted, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). If we as imperfect, fallible people find ourselves shocked, even incensed by others’ words and deeds, imagine how our holy, all-righteous God must feel – not only about theirs, but also ours?

This is why Jesus Christ admonished against our fondness for judging and assessing others. However, it wasn’t simply to condemn those who come across as judgmental and “holier than thou.” He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

Sometimes when I watch or listen to the 24/7 media ranting relentlessly about someone’s failures, I wonder how many of those same commentators, if we peered into their personal lives – and histories – would be found guilty of the same or similar misdeeds, or perhaps worse?

As Paul wrote elsewhere in his letter to the church in Rome, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1). He remembered well, even citing some of his own past sins. Are we as willing to openly acknowledge our own?

Writing to another group of believers in the Greek city of Corinth, the apostle also warned, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” also recognizing, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). To put this into today’s vernacular, when we point fingers at someone else’s wrongdoing, the remaining fingers are pointing back at ourselves.

Thankfully, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible is far more forgiving than the court of public opinion – and the ever-accusing media. Despite being perfect and holy, He offers forgiveness, cleansing and a literal new start through Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Referring to His impending death on the cross while serving the Passover meal to His followers, Jesus explained, This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

So while past sins could possibly be brought to the public consciousness, especially if we’re in the public eye (not a good place to be these days, it seems), once we’ve confessed them and received forgiveness from God, He’ll never revisit them again. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). And that’s why it’s called, Good News!

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