CGG Weekly, February 16, 2007

"There is nothing lost by discarding your faults."
Sophia Bedfor Price

How many of us have felt embarrassed after finding leavening in our homes during the Days of Unleavened Bread? Far more embarrassing is to reclaim leavening after throwing it out, yet I had such an experience, one I was ashamed for years to admit had happened. To be sure, thirty-one years ago my understanding of the symbolism of leavening lacked depth. Nevertheless, before observing my first Unleavened Bread, I meticulously gathered up all the crackers, yeast, baking soda, bread, and cookies, and stored them in a locker. After the holy days were over, I returned to the locker and reclaimed the leavening.

In reality, I did what many of us do spiritually: I had reclaimed my sins after repenting of them, a kind of spiritual grave-robbing. This ruminating and dwelling on former sins (whether ours or to someone else's) is worth considering.

Most of us have watched an old horror movie or a science fiction thriller. In our youth, my brother and I occasionally sneaked down to the living room at midnight to watch the Dracula or Frankenstein movies. Invariably, a ghoulish mad scientist would send his feeble-minded assistant to the cemetery to get him a cadaver or perhaps a skeleton. Too many of us have a similar ghoulish desire to unearth, take back, and to some extent resurrect the old sinful self that God put to death in a watery grave. The apostle Paul reminds us that we should have buried our old selves - and our old sins - symbolically through baptism (Romans 6:3; Colossians 2:12).

God Almighty desires to forget transgressions as though they had not happened in the first place. When we sincerely repent of our sins, our heavenly Father not only forgives them, but also totally forgets them. We read in Psalm 103:11-12, "For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." The memory of those sins drop absolutely out of sight and out of mind - unless we keep bringing them up or continue committing them.

A number of years ago, while perusing some student evaluations of my teaching, I noticed I had received both positive and negative comments. Oddly, I have largely forgotten the positive comments, but the negative ones I have continued to etch into my mind. Human nature perversely clings to the negative and discounts the positive. Perhaps this is analogous to plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz' finding that when he repaired a facial scar, the patient still obsessed on the notion that he looked ugly. Similarly, he noted that phantom limbs on amputees often take months, perhaps years, to disappear.

It is bad enough when we dwell on our own amputated bad habits and character flaws, but we greatly compound this disgusting habit when we dwell on other people's past sins and transgressions. Matthew 6 teaches that we have a responsibility to bury the transgressions of others by forgiving and forgetting old grudges, slights, and offenses. In fact, we can inhibit our spiritual growth until we let go of any real or imagined transgressions against us. Jesus warns, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

When we grit our teeth, muttering, "I'll forgive, but I'll never forget," we practice some of the most deplorable grave-robbing. Jesus admonishes us to let go of those grievances as a precondition of forgiveness and of freedom from resentment against us. He also instructs us that, if we have allowed ourselves to become a source of resentment to others, we must make reconciliation a top priority: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).

Unfortunately, human nature does not consider reconciliation a top-priority item. We find it far easier to nurse an old resentment, re-examining it from every angle, and harping on it continually. Proverbs 17:9 reveals the fruit of such behavior: "He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates the best of friends." Marriages have been needlessly destroyed by the digging up and rehashing of old faults.

Satan appeals to our grave-robbing instincts. Whenever resentments occur between brethren, whenever fights occur in marriage or in the family, one unearths a past transgression of another, dangling it before him or her like some badly decomposed corpse. Though Christ's sacrifice covered or buried the other's transgressions, we, like feeble-minded lackeys in a horror movie, have the urge to dig them up.

Sometimes we parents dig up the past mistakes of our children. In addition to correcting the current transgression, we bring up an entire litany of past faults that have little or nothing to do with the current problem. What if God did that to us every time we made a mistake?

Are we dirt collectors? Several years ago, my sons had plans of collecting dirt samples from every state we traveled through from Nevada to Maine. At the end of the trip, they had amassed a box full of plastic baggies filled with assorted soil samples. Should we collect dirt on people, storing juicy tidbits in our mental filing cabinets, such samples often do not remain inert like actual soil, but can become fertile ground for venomous revenge years later. Grave robbing motives - digging up an old offense, long-forgotten and long-repented - can lead to a massive character assassination.

The classic horror movies - like The Thing, The Blob, Attack of the Killer Bees, and The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - have unsettling, open-ended endings, which have a sinister spiritual parallel. After the good guys destroy the major menace, a tiny handful of the virulent creatures escape and are left to propagate, starting the horror all over again. Whether we have a memory of our brother's transgression or of our own past sin, we need to make sure that we bury and destroy the behavior, the thought impulses that caused the behavior, and the stimulus that led to the thought impulses. We should resist noting where we disposed of them.

The organisms left to propagate a major horror are sub-microscopic. In I Corinthians 5:6 and Galatians 5:9, Paul reminds us that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. James suggests that a tiny thought process, metaphorically no larger than an impregnated ovum, can lead to agonizing death (James 1:15). As we approach another Passover and repent of our sins, let us bury them and the memory of offenses against us, and then resist with all our might the ghoulish urge to exhume them. It can only result in more horror.