Today, let's consider how the gospel can help a person come to grips with their past.
For some of you reading, your past is just something that's there. You don’t really give much thought to it. You know you've had both good moments and tough moments, but it doesn't feel like your past plays much into who you currently are.
For the large majority of us, we know our past affects our present. And sadly, some of the most impactful moments are the deeply painful ones. Whether they were actions you did or evil things done to you or around you, these past memories sometimes cling like infected wounds that haven't been thoroughly cleaned. You keep trying to find emotional bandages for these inner wounds, but the bandages of sex, alcohol, materialism, entertainment, food, or whatever don’t seem to bring true healing.
This is why we need Gospel Therapy. We need the gospel to help us work through the pains of the past. To help you consider how to apply the gospel to your past, I want to tell you about Joe.
We meet Joe in Genesis chapter 37 when he is a cocky teen of 17 years. His brothers can’t stand his arrogance, nor the fact he is Daddy's favorite. So when given the chance, they sell him off to slave traders. This led to slavery in Egypt, which later led to prison in Egypt, then to (crazily) becoming second-in-command of Egypt. But it was while serving as second-in-command that Joe was able to rescue his family back in Israel from a severe famine. (If you need a fuller recap of Joseph's story, here's a video that recaps it in under 4 minutes.)
I bring up Joseph's story for a reason. If anyone had an excuse to be mad at life or at God because of his past, it was Joe. Think about all that he went through: slavery, imprisonment, abandonment, mockery, isolation, and more. He was abused emotionally, verbally, and probably physically. And possibly most painful of all, Joe kept trying to do the right thing no matter where he ended up (like not having an affair with his master’s wife or taking care of his fellow prisoners), yet so much pain kept being piled on him.
Yet when he had his opportunity to get revenge on his brothers who started all of this pain, Joseph didn’t retaliate. Rather, he forgave. How could he do it?
By trusting God.
Listen to what Joseph tells his brothers when they share they are fearful Joe is going to try to get revenge:
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
Part of the way you can deal with your past and forgive those who have hurt you (including yourself) is by trusting in the sovereignty of God. Yes, there might be deep, deep pain in your past, and I am SO sorry you had to endure it. It's okay to lament! But know that pain is not the end of your story. If you still draw breath, God can redeem your past, and possibly even turn it around into something good and glorious. To paraphrase Joseph: what Satan may have intended as evil against you, God can work for good.
This is how the gospel helps us. You do not worship a God who does not understand pain. Rather, you worship a God who has fully experienced it. Jesus knows physical pain through the whips on his back, the nails in his hands, and the crown of thorns jabbed on his brow. The Father knows the emotional pain of being rejected by those He created. The Spirit knows what it is to be grieved by the sin of others. God is not so removed from you while sitting on His throne in heaven that He is completely oblivious to what you have experienced. He is a God who stepped off His throne, took on human flesh, and experienced a fully human life - the pain, the temptation, the tears, the heartbreak, the loneliness, and more.
However, rather than lash out in His pain, or seek to numb it through avoidance or some action of self-harm, God absorbs the pain and forgives us. He is Sovereign, He is in control, He knows how this is all going to end. He knows your story. He sees your next chapter.
So I encourage you to trust Him. The gospel shows God deeply loved you by sending His one and only Son to die on the cross for the forgiveness of your sin. But the gospel also shows us Jesus was powerful enough to raise Himself from the dead. If He can do that, I’m pretty sure He can bring you out of your own painful past, just like He brought Joseph through slavery and imprisonment.
So don't let your past define you or enslave you. Let the gospel define you and free you!
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