“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.” -Willie Jolley
I wonder if our pasts could withstand the spotlight? That’s what I think anytime we find someone that becomes the public scapegoat for condemnation from week to week. Whether it’s Chris Brown, Nate Parker, Kim K or whoever, I always find it hard to jump on the bandwagon of public condemnation and it’s because I am not so sure I would ever want my past blown up for the world to see.
I understand that certain actions elicit painful memories for people and some people do some terrible, unspeakable things. But recently as so much surfaced about Nate Parker’s past rape allegation, I just thought of how much a 17-year-old case overshadowed the film “Birth of a Nation.” I did not see the film, not because of a boycott towards Nate Parker per say, but because I am extremely sensitive to films on slavery and would just prefer to sob uncontrollably in the comforts of my own home. But it left me thinking about our inability to escape our pasts.
From what I read of the case it seems a terrible thing happened that night and I really pray for all those that were involved. But whether you support Nate Parker or not, is not my business. I want to make it very clear that this is not about Nate Parker, but this was what got me to thinking about this subject matter. I guess what I am looking to highlight is our ruthless judgment of people’s past mistakes or perceived mistakes that we aren’t even certain are fact. Let me get this straight here, rape is serious and a terrible thing, period. But often we are still holding people accountable for WAY less than a serious allegation like that. We judge women based on their past promiscuity, the fact that they had a baby at 16 or men on the robbery they committed 20 years ago and never give them the opportunity to prove that have indeed changed.
I read in the Bible, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corr. 5:17. It gave me so much hope as a new believer that I could indeed step into a life that was new. What I didn’t realize was how much other people will want to treat you as if you are the same person you used to be.
No we can’t magically erase our pasts. We get that. It’s etched in stone. But as the quote cites that started this post, WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE THERE. You are not your mistakes. And I know a lot of times we like to weigh one mistake over another, but at the crux of it, perception is reality. Sure you may not have a murky past of sexual assault, but we all have a past and big or small mistakes, I don’t think we could withstand seeing them recurring at every turn of our lives.
What I have learned is that people will have to be accountable for their own actions. Sure if I see someone I know headed down a path of destruction, I can say, “hey you shouldn’t do that or think about this some more.” Or if I know that someone did a terrible act to someone else I can report them to authorities, etc. But we formulate opinions and judgments without many of the facts at all. And it’s not up to me to decide whether a stranger was right or wrong, guilty or not guilty. (Unless I’m serving on a jury or something.) The people who have done horrible things have to deal with themselves which is a fate that can sometimes be overlooked.
When people do terrible things and lack seeing another’s humanity, they have to live with that truth. And living with that in my estimation is more of a burden than a flopped film. They will have to answer to God for their sins just like I will. They will have to ask for forgiveness just like I will. I cannot make that call for someone else.
Systematic change is a whole other beast. Changing how we view those that have served time, helping the prison become actual rehabilitation, changing how society views women so that things like sexual assault become UNACCEPTABLE and less commonplace. That to me is where our focus should be as opposed to the smear campaigns that happen up and down Twitter timelines or being found guilty by public opinion.
I give people grace because I am in need of grace. I believe that there are people who have done horrible things in their lives that are still in need of grace. And I believe that if they ask for redemption they can receive it from the God that I know. We all have our thoughts and our opinions and we are entitled to those. But I just implore you that when you want to publicly condemn, that you think a little about what you may be hiding in the dark. What skeletons you have that could never withstand public scrutiny.
You will find moments in life when you are trying to do a new thing and everyone in your life is desperately clinging onto who you used to be. I pray you find the strength to never be a victim to your past and to know that whether people forgive you or not, your Lord and savior always will. There is NO-THING that can separate you from the love of God, neither life nor death, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries for tomorrow, not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:31-39)
If we held ourselves to the standard of people’s opinions, we’d be in trouble, because they change depending on whatever way the wind blows. You are a hero one day and a fallen hero the next. Harnessing in your self-talk and your talk with God becomes essential to your survival. Sometimes literally having to block out what everyone else is yelling at you and focusing only on what God says about you.
I don’t know about you, but I have dealt with my own struggles with the past and have had to seek God every step of the way to know that I am worthy of the life I am living past my mistakes, past the people I may have hurt, and the harm I may have done to myself.
So whether people can see who you’ve become or not, I promise you that God sees you. And that is all you will ever need.