“Agree with God, and be at peace.” Job 22:21
The poet Patterson Smyth wrote,
“And the ghosts of forgotten actions came floating before my sight,
And the things that I thought were dead things,
were alive with a terrible might.
And the vision of all my past life, was an awful thing to face,
alone, alone with my conscience, in that strange and terrible place!”
Let me tell you about a young woman in such as “strange and terrible place.” Her name is Libby. She’s twenty-one years old. During the past year she got drunk at a party and passed out. She doesn’t remember anything after that, except that some weeks later she discovered she was pregnant. Hoping to avoid embarrassment, she had a quick abortion. Now she has been having a reoccurring nightmare in which a baby chases her. He is crying to be born. The dreams have been going on for seven months and they have reduced Libby to an emotional cripple.
In the play Richard the Third, Shakespeare’s character, King Richard, walks the stage and confesses, “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain.” Let me tell you about Jack. His conscience has been condemning him for a villain for over fifty years. You see, Jack killed a man. It was during World War II. There in a small German village Jack rounded a corner and nearly bumped into a young German soldier. They scuffled, and Jack shot the lad at point blank range. He still remembers the surprised look on the boy’s face. He remembers the blood, the body, and the guilt.
A popular song talks about “Memories stuck between the pages of my mind.” Johnny knows what it is to have memories stuck between the pages of his mind. Before his present marriage Johnny lived with another woman. The living together arrangement ended in a quarrel and storm of tears. Now three years later, Johnny is married but he cannot forget his former mate. Flashbacks of his former sexual encounters vividly compare how it was and how it is. Now Johnny is sexually impotent with his wife unless he first closes his eyes and thinks of his former girlfriend.
The Psalmist said, “My sins are ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Joan knows how it is. Her newborn baby suffocated six years ago. The child was sleeping in the crib and Joan was showing a new dress to a friend when she draped a plastic dry cleaners bag over the crib rail. Her friend said, “You’d better take that plastic bag away.” But Joan didn’t. She left the room and a breeze from the window lifted the bag off the rail and onto the child’s face. She came in later to find him dead. Still six years later, every time she hears a child cry or passes a dry cleaners, Joan is devastated by memories. Like a sore toe that somehow manages to always get stepped on, so Joan is constantly in pain over the tragic past. There’s always something there to remind her.
We’ve been talking about problems of the memory. Things we’ve done, things we’ve left undone, even things done to us can kill us softly. Angry words, rejection, rape, a divorce, a battered childhood experience, a frightening experience with an animal– these are the kinds of memories that can be devastating.
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Each night when you put your head on the pillow you begin to think. Something in your past begins to stir. A “ghost” pushes over a tombstone in your conscience and says, “Boo! Remember me?” And the ghosts of forgotten actions come floating before your sight, and the things you thought were dead things become alive with a terrible might!
How We Handle Painful Memories
Let’s look for a moment at how we handle the painful memories that often return to us. One way we deal with yesterday is to stage and restage the events of the past in our minds. We meditate on the ugly memory, rehandle each detail until the event is reinforced in our brains. And such a habit is killing! If a child scrapes his knee, the wound will heal if he leaves it alone. But if he continues to scratch at it the wound will not heal and might even get infected. So with the memories.
We also handle ugly memories by glibly saying, “Just give it time! Time heals all wounds!” Anybody who believes that has never been sick and sat for three hours in a doctor’s waiting room! Memories, like a running sore, can fester and hurt for years undiminished by time.
We also try to deal with painful memories by repression. “Go away! No! No! Leave me alone!” We try to shove them down or push them away. But it’s no good. It’s like pushing a cork down in the water. Shove it down here and it pops up there! Psychologists estimate that we spend as much as 50% of our emotional energy trying to repress painful memories. We can’t fully live today because half our power is being used to deal with something that occurred twenty years ago.
Yet another attempt we make at dealing with past hurts is to rationalize and run away. We say things like, “Everybody’s got a skeleton or two in their closet.” And we try to forget by staying busy, being in a crowd, avoiding silence. But the memory is there in our subconscious mind eating away like a cancer. Perhaps that’s why so many need tranquilizers, liquor, sleeping pills and psychiatric appointments to cope.
Repression, give it time, thinking and rethinking about the past, trying to run away– these are all poor attempts we make at dealing with bad memories. Another way we handle memory is through guilt. We browbeat ourselves, demean ourselves, wallow in guilt. The story usually goes like this. “I was tempted. I gave in. I hate myself!” Such guilt can only be handled in one of two ways. It must be forgiven or it must be punished. If one cannot find forgiveness then he’ll find a way to punish himself mentally or physically.
Christ and Our Painful Memories
So far we’ve looked at a very real problem for all of us– sore memories. And we’ve also studied some fruitless ways of dealing with our painful past. Now let’s consider how we can deal with bad memories in Christ.
First off, Jesus Christ knows all about you, and He still loves you. He knows what you’ve done. He knows what’s been done to you, He knows where you’re broken, how you hurt, and He still loves you. He cares! And He wants you to have peace. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted, and He binds up their wounds.” How does He do that? By your repentance and confession and faith in His grace.
Remember how as a child some bully would knock you down on the ground and twist your arm until you screamed? Then he’d set his terms of release. “Say ‘uncle’ and I’ll let you go!” Remember that? Well, God has so constructed this universe that our sins find us out. They come back to us with guilt and bully us until we cry out to God for forgiveness and peace in Jesus. You can see this in Adam and Eve’s experience. They sinned and ran and hid from God in Eden. Their guilt would not allow them to face God. When the Lord asked, “What hast thou done?” They passed the blame and rationalized. Pride would not let them repent and confess and ask for mercy. And so it was that God drove them from His presence into a fallen world of pain. And their sins bullied them until they repented.
If you today find yourself bullied by sore memories , alienated from God, torn with pride and long-time habits of rationalization, then our text for today is just for you. Say, “uncle!” “Agree with God and be at peace.” Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Don’t try to hide things any longer. Quit pretending! You’re not fooling God. You’re only fooling yourself! Come out and face God. Do what Adam and Eve never did. Say, “I did it. It was a sin. I repent of it. Please forgive me and help me!” 1 John 1:19 is a promise, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Quite often forgiveness of painful past sins is not enough. Healing of the memories is also required. Jesus often healed the blind, the lame, the deaf or leperous. But not only is physical healing often needed, mental healing can be necessary as well. And Christ can heal the mind also.
We humans are locked into the present. We cannot relive the past or escape to the future. But Jesus Christ is not limited to time. He can walk into your past and touch each broken moment. He can heal your painful memories. Why not ask Jesus to forgive you? Ask Him to walk back into your past and make you well. Give Him permission to come into your life and go with Him hand in hand as he walks back into your past to heal.
Sister, Brother, if you’re weak and need help, call out to your pastor. I’ll go with you to Jesus. We’ll ask Christ to walk back into every second of your life, to heal every hurt, every disappointment, to take away every fear, to forgive every sin. We’ll ask Jesus to fill you with His love, His joy and peace. We’ll ask Him to heal all your painful memories.
Passing on from how we ask Jesus to heal our sore memories, let’s take a look at how we stay healed. You’re well aware of how a sick person can be made well, but because he failed to take care of himself he had a relapse. This can happen with the healing of the memories as well. Your staying healed depends on your willingness to get up and move on to new life.
In the Bible Satan is often called the slanderer or the accuser (Zechariah 3:1, Revelations 12:10). He loves to come to you and whisper, “Remember that? Yes, you did that, didn’t you? What happened next? She said what?” His trick is to get you to restage the painful memory in your mind. There is an old poem about a man whose job was to rechizle worn cemetery tombstones. The rain and ice over the years would all but erase the grave marker’s words and his job was to restore them. That’s what Satan tries to get you to do, to rethink and, thus to re-etch the painful past in your mind. To stay healed you must not do it. Instead you must learn to think about your past as God does. Here’s how it works.
Each time Satan feeds you an impulse to reconsider the sinful past, you simply do so. But you do it God’s way, not Satan’s way! Satan whispers, “You did that, didn’t you? Remember?” And you say, “Yes, I did that. It was a sin. That action helped crucify Christ! But God took His death and used it to atone for my sins. He died for me, for my redemption! And now I belong to Christ by my faith and baptism. I’m a new creation. Old things are passed away! Even my sins! I now live for Christ!” That’s agreeing with God! And it leads to peace!
I can promise you on the authority of God’s Word that if you handle your past like this, one of two things will happen. Either you’ll stop thinking of the past in God’s mind and begin to do it Satan’s way and sink into sickness again, or you will use Satan’s accusations as an opportunity to think of the cross, and Satan, who is afraid of the cross and who hates for you to think of it, will stop accusing you. And if he no longer accuses you then you’ll be free to start forgetting.
Have you ever noticed how you can park your car at a shopping center and later forget where you put it? If a capitalistic American can do that with something worth $20,000 he can do it with a worthless sin of the past. You can forget! God can heal your memories by applying the marvelous spiritual eraser of Christ’s atonement. The ugly past can dissolve from your mind or, at least, the detrimental emotional impact can be mellowed, lessened, and put in perspective.
Walking Out of the Past
Back in 1973 my wife and I toured Europe. Kathryn and I both lugged heavy suitcases. They started off in Ireland at forty pounds each, but by the time we got to Spain they each weighed 65 pounds. Along the way we’d collected souvenirs, extra clothes and whatnots. I think the turning point came when I carried those suitcases one mile from the Madrid train station to our hotel. My arms aching, I said, “Something’s got to go!” So opening our suitcases we lightened the load by giving stuff away, mailing things home, and consigning still more to the trash can. I’m convinced that we travel through life with over packed bags as well. We’re burdened with too much luggage. We can’t enjoy where we are because of where we’ve been! And we need to “Agree with God and be at peace,” to open up our lives to Jesus, to allow Him to go through our memories healing and discarding. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest the character Prospero says, “Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone!” This is the challenge from God’s Word! To not let yesterday take up too much of today, to leave the past with God’s grace, to walk with Jesus today in newness of life! St. Paul did not burden himself with his past life. His former legalistic lifestyle, the stoning of Stephen, hate, beatings, stonings, and covetousness– all of these were forgiven, the memory healed by Jesus. And Paul said “But this 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. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded” (Philippians 3:13-15).
For Group Discussion…
- What are some of the painful memories you think some biblical heroes might like to have forgotten? Examples: David’s affair with Bathsheba, the time Paul was stoned and left for dead, Peter’s denial of Christ.
- Do you have troublesome memories you’d like to take the soreness out of? Can you name one and explain why it hurts?
- In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are told to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” How can we do this with bad memories that surface? Example of the wrong way: rationalization, worry, mental wallowing and fear. The right way: confession, agreeing with God, Biblical meditation.
- Study Psalm 51 which David wrote after God forgave him for his sins with Bathsheba. Can you pick out at least 5 steps to complete forgiveness?
- Ask God specifically in prayer to heal each of your sore memories as you think of them.
- Is it alright to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you?