Redemption and freedom from the past

A Christian Science perspective: Our identity is not a compilation of past experiences.

A young man named Ryan Ferguson was freed several weeks ago after spending nearly a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit. When I first heard his story, I thought about the time he'd lost while in prison and how far behind he would be compared with his peers with regard to jobs and education. Despite his situation, Mr. Ferguson seems to be happy and optimistic about the future, rather than angry or frustrated.

As I thought about his story, I realized that it was similar to the Bible story of Joseph (see Genesis 37-41). A young Hebrew man gets beaten and sold into slavery by his brothers. His master, Potiphar, trusts him and puts him in charge of his household. After a time, Potiphar's wife tries to tempt Joseph into having an affair with her, and, after he refuses, she accuses him of attacking her. Although her false testimony gets him thrown in jail, Joseph ultimately helps Pharaoh interpret a dream. The ruler is so impressed that he makes Joseph second in command over Egypt. In this position of authority, he implements regulations that save Egypt and neighboring kingdoms during a famine.

What strikes me about his story is that Joseph's turbulent history never prevented his progress or hindered him from doing what God needed him to do. Despite having a "prison record" and lacking a standard education, he became a statesman and saved Egypt and his family (including his brothers who had sold him into slavery) from starvation. The Bible never says he got angry about being a slave or wrongfully imprisoned. It reports his humility and reliance on God, which enabled him to prosper and put him into positions of authority.

As Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, "The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged" ("Retrospection and Introspection," p. 22). Like Joseph, we do not have to be limited by whatever our human history says about us. It cannot limit our present or future ability to express God and follow His commands. The true identity of each of us is derived from the all-good God, our creator and Father-Mother. We are not made up of a compilation of past experiences.

As we trust that God protects us and puts us wherever we need to be in order to best express and serve Him, we can overcome a difficult past and avoid becoming irritated when we feel we've been wronged.

Similarly, we can know that no time is lost because God will "restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten" (Joel 2:25). Even though he spent years as a slave and prisoner, Joseph was ready and able to help when Pharaoh needed him and was not hindered by the time he spent incarcerated.

While few people face situations like those of Ryan Ferguson and Joseph, both men are good examples. They were cheerfully willing to forgive and ready to move forward with their experiences regardless of their situation.

Whether our past includes problematic relationships, poor employment history, or bad credit, we can trust in God's care for us and know that our human history cannot hinder our growth or our prospects.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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