Our Past and God's Present
IT feels like a refreshing breeze in a long, hot spell when we break through to a new level of living where the past no longer drags at us. Nonagenarian Eva Jessye--composer, conductor, arranger, and actress--capsulizes how many of us hope we can live. National Geographic quotes her as saying: "They say you should not suffer through the past. You should be able to wear it like a loose garment, take it off and let it drop.
The past wouldn't always be such a contemporary subject were it not that how we respond to the past influences the present. But if the past is influencing our today in unhelpful ways, it is not because we are dragging old events into the present. It is our thoughts about the past that are our contemporary companions which affect us.
We often see both parties in international confrontations bringing along a history on which they base their positions. True statesmanship lifts people from simply dwelling on the wrongs of the past and enables them to embrace a new course of action. Nations and individuals need this freedom to act and think differently if we are ever to rectify injustices.
A new start, without the leftover attitudes of yesterday, makes a difference in what we think of our life, in how we get along with people and what we achieve in our jobs. Past wrongs aren't easily erased, of course. Nor should they just be wiped out of memory or ignored. We need to progress beyond them, actually to change our thinking and action in a way that renews our lives and frees us from these burdens of the past. The progress we need to make is regeneration--a spiritual step forward that is a dep arture from old attitudes and conduct.
The Bible urges and even commands us to repent; and such reform is attainable. As we read in the book of Acts: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
The ability to be better comes from God. God reveals a new you and me as we turn to Him to guide our thoughts and actions. Spiritually seen, the bundle of personality traits and opinions we may think of as "ourselves doesn't truly determine our genuine identity, which is spiritual. God, the divine Mind that is man's creator, has made man in His image. God knows the goodness of His likeness. Man is eternally like Him, and God is eternally good. Overflowing love, wisdom, selflessness, intelligence, joy, wh oleness--these are the qualities that belong to man in God's spiritual likeness. When we start getting a spiritual view of who we are, we stop seeing ourselves as stuck with repeating old mistakes.
The fundamental change we need is a change in how we think of ourselves. It takes reformation to stop thinking of ourselves as always moody, for example, or overly-sensitive or resentful. Because God is the source, or Life, of man, these harmful characteristics are without divine sanction. This can be proved as prayer brings our spiritual identity more into our thought.
Hours and years, upon deeper examination, don't stand up to the permanence of spiritual truth. Past, present, and future are human measurements. Divine Mind is eternally good, and we as Mind's expression are timeless in the sense that man's spirituality and goodness are eternal, always present. Knowing this gives us a basis from which to heal the effects of the past.
I went through a period when I kept reacting to a certain situation in the same bad way. I would explode with anger, and then I would regret what I had just felt and said. I couldn't seem to overcome this reaction until I was really ready to accept that God didn't create me as a mortal with this difficulty or series of feelings. My spiritual identity gradually became more tangible to me--in fact, I could see that it was and is the only true me--and I was finally free from the old behavior.
Christ Jesus had dealings with all sorts of people who were experiencing reformation. Zacchus-- a tax collector who was eager to see Jesus--pledged that he would redress any unethical action he had taken. A woman accused of adultery was dealt with wisely and compassionately by Jesus as he told her, "Go, and sin no more.
Neither Zacchus's nor the woman's past behavior prevented either from experiencing the reformation that brought salvation. Similarly, we can start by wanting to be better. God gives us the freedom to make the decisions that free us from wrong. Our part is to find out how man is made to express God's nature and then be that spiritual expression. Mortal characteristics can't cling to us or hold us back. They are the products of a sinful and incorrect view of God and man--they are not our spiritual her itage.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discover and Founder of Christian Science, had a lot to say about Christian reform. The theology of Christian Science would be incomplete if reformation were left out of it. For example, Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "Reform comes by understanding that there is no abiding pleasure in evil, and also by gaining an affection for good according to Science, which reveals the immortal fact that neither pleasure nor pain, appetite nor passion, can exist in or of matter, while divine Mind can and does destroy the false beliefs of pleasure, pain, or fear and all the sinful appetites of the human mind.
To be able to interact with people without old resentments or hurts tainting the relationship is wonderful. No longer to be jealous or greedy or afraid in a situation that used to occasion those feelings is a freedom that makes you want to praise God. The past isn't the slave driver it seems to be. And we can see that God's eternal present is unblemished and full of promise as we go about discovering who we are as God's child.