As much as I like the idea of a clean slate, I know it can’t be that way. We are who we are in part because of the trials, mistakes and blunders we’ve committed and endured.
Posted by Doug Walker on October 15th, 2008
I have a friend who always signs off on his emails with the phrase, “It’s a brand new day.” Some of you may have heard the line because the artist Sting used it as a title to one his songs. It’s got a catchy tune and a nice beat, but I have to admit I don’t really understand all of the lyrics. I asked my friend if he used the phrase because he liked the song. He said he didn’t listen to Sting. So I pressed him a little further. Why that line? What’s wrong with “sincerely” or “see ya” or maybe even “catch you later?” He said he liked “it’s a brand new day” because it reminded him that all the junk of yesterday is gone, and today we get to start over with a clean slate. Sounds great in theory, but is it really possible?
I think, in a theological sense, there is some truth to the phrase. After all, First Corinthians says that if we belong to Christ we are new creations. The old is gone and the new has come. Because of Jesus, God no longer remembers our sin, and our record is set right. We have clean hands and a clean heart, and we’ve been forgiven and set free. Kind of like a brand new day. But can these theological truths really translate into how we live? Is every day brand new? Can I expect a sort of spiritual amnesia each morning, where the glory and wonder of the gospel obliterate any and all memories that involved sin? No clunky baggage or ill will from yesterday? The mishaps and hurts are old news, forgotten, like trash at the curb?
As much as I like the idea of a clean slate, I know it can’t be that way. We are who we are in part because of the trials, mistakes and blunders we’ve committed and endured. We’d love to forget about them, but the carryover effect to the here and now is unavoidable. A loss from a decade ago still makes me weep. A poor decision made a few years ago continues to cause difficulty today. Last week’s forgetfulness started a domino effect that still has me apologizing. The stinging words I uttered in yesterday’s argument will not stop ringing in my head. Let’s face it, even as redeemed, forgiven, new creation Christians, the past still haunts us. We can tell ourselves today is a brand new day, but in a sense it becomes a silly mind over matter game. Kind of like standing outside in January with just shorts and a t-shirt trying to convince yourself it’s not cold.
So if the past continues to pop up in the present, how then, to quote Francis Schaeffer, shall we live? I think several stories from Scripture can help us reconcile this idea of a brand new day with the ever present residual effects of the past. Believe it or not, the remedy that the Bible offers is not to forget the past, but to remember it. Time and again, God creates difficulty and pain so that we might remember how He worked, and continues to work today.
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God for an entire night. When morning came, Jacob demanded a blessing, but God permanently injures his hip. The blessing was granted, but so was a painful reminder that Jacob had been in the presence of the Lord Himself. Then there’s Job, a man who was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” If anyone deserved a carefree life full of blessing, it was Job. And he had it, for a while, but then God took it all away. The pain and confusion had to be staggering. Sure, Job got it all back; the family, the house, the flocks. But God didn’t erase the memory of his hellish experience, and while a new house and new livestock are nice, nothing could ever replace his first family. The apostle Paul was struck blind during his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. While the scales later fell from his eyes at the house on Straight Street, his sight was restored but it was never the same. He also speaks of a “thorn in his flesh” in 2 Corinthians that God never took away, despite his pleading. Perhaps it was his poor eyesight, but maybe it was something else. Regardless, it was a constant and painful reminder that God’s grace alone was sufficient for him.
My hunch is that these three men would have gladly accepted a brand new day, where the pain and the trials of yesterday were gone and forgotten. But God chose differently. He wanted them to know that these were significant times in their lives that must not be lost. What they saw as undesirable, God was using to shape and form them. As strange as it seems, their trial was God’s training, and God wasn’t going to let them forget it.
There’s no question that Grace Chapel has seen some trials and difficulties these past few years, and it would be perfectly understandable to want them out of sight and out of mind. My hope is that God would treat us the same way He treated Jacob, Job and Paul. That our pain would not be just a bad memory, but rather a signpost to God’s amazing care and provision. You see, when we forget our trials, we also forget God’s faithfulness. When we refuse to speak of our failures, we neglect God’s mercy and grace. When we ignore the sins of the past, the gospel of Jesus Christ is irrelevant. We must realize that at Grace Chapel, the road to the future runs through the past. While it may indeed be a brand new day, let’s remember where we’ve been and all God has done to make us who we are. In the words of John Newton from Amazing Grace:
Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.