How can we be free from our past?

A friends’ friend killed himself last year. Taylor (let’s call him that) saw his life turn into a nightmare after he stabbed a guy to death, and the story was broadcasted in the media and became a national scandal. Taylor was apparently in love, and killed his friend out of jealousy. He spent some time in jail, and was now waiting at home for his trial, but it was very hard to behave as a normal person. Virtually all of Taylor’ friends abandoned him; many of them were also friends with the guy he killed. He was not accepted at any job once people found out what he had done. He tried a distance university course but that did not go well, and he of course gave up the prospect of finding someone who would accept and maybe marry him. So he pretty much stayed at home. He saw his life being taken from him the moment he took someone else’s life. Last year he jumped off the sixth floor.

Yet Taylor is just an extreme case of someone looking desperately for something we all crave: redemption. We may not plan to murder someone, and I think he did not intend that either, but we all wish we could go back in time and undo something. We all have words we wish we had not said, or good actions we wish we had performed. We all have a first experiment we wish we had not tried, now that it became a vicious habit and sucks out our joy. If we were brought before a time machine, and had the chance of visiting the past once, I bet most of us would not journey back to watch Napoleon’s coronation or the 1970 World Cup final. We would travel back to change our past, and thus change our present and our future. We would fashion a new history for ourselves.

Past actions have a molding quality: they stand tall and cast a shade over our horizon. They fit our complex existence into their simple, unchangeable molds, and leave us afraid we will not be able to perform any better than we have done in the past. Regrets threaten to imprison us and hold us captive, and we long for some form of liberation, for a breath of life that will give us a fresh start of life and a renewed direction. We want to be free from our imprisoning past.

Jesus told a paralyzed man once that he forgave his sins, and that, as proof of this, the man from then on could also walk, which he did. Everyone at that day was marveled at a man who said he could forgive sins, as if he were God, and several of them decided to kill the madman who uttered absurd things. The ability to forgive others is indeed outrageous; what about people’s guilt, responsibility, consequences, accountability? How can society then administer the politics of blame, punishment and scapegoating? How can a forgiver of sins be kept safely in the past, relegated to the outpost of nice yet inoffensive religious symbol, and stop to interfere with us? How can we prevent succeeding powers from manipulating and profiting from an ability to sell forgiveness?

No wonder someone who made such a claim ended up crucified. He became an object of scorn then and since. Still, some of us know no better. We don’t know anybody else who can offer us redemption, and we cannot sidestep the fact that we need it. Faith in Jesus may be regarded as politically incorrect, cheesy, retrograde; but who else can truly redeem us? Our sinfulness cripples and overwhelms us, and charms suicide as an easy exit, yet here comes someone who looks us in the eye and tells us to walk. And off we go, limping, failing, questioning, but walk we do, for we get our life back the moment we embrace Someone else’s life, and now remains a fresh, eternal start.

René Breuel

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