Even if all you want to do is forget your past, God can use it to bring you closer to him
“O Lord Almighty, God of Israel, the soul in anguish and the wearied spirit cry out to you. Hear, O Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned before you.” –Baruch 3:1-2
“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” –Luke 7:47
I spend a lot of time telling the world what’s so great about being Catholic, so I frequently find myself starting a sentence, “One thing I love about being Catholic is….” That sentence can end a hundred different ways, but there are a few particularly Catholic doctrines that top the list. Right up there with the Eucharist and the authority of the Church is the certainty of absolution, the confidence Catholics have that when God absolves us through the priest our sins are utterly washed away, removed as far as the east is from the west.
It’s an incredible thing to be sure of—if only we could truly believe it. Because for all we profess to believe in the forgiveness of sins, I can’t begin to count the number of people I’ve met who are still mired in shame over their pasts. God may have forgiven me, many of us think, but he certainly must think less of me. So we envy people whose conversions happened early and loathe ourselves for the bad choices we’ve made, all the while forgetting that some of our greatest saints had been great sinners.
This is where the story of the sinful woman anointing Jesus really gets me. It’s beautiful to see the abandon with which she throws herself at the feet of Jesus, her utter lack of shame as she bathes his feet with her tears. But even with all the beautiful imagery, it’s a conjunction that really gets me: hence. She hasn’t been forgiven because she’s shown love. She shows love because she’s been forgiven so much.
This is stunning: because of her sinful past, she loves all the more. In God’s economy, her sin can be used for the good. And somehow, God (who never desires that we sin) has made her better not despite her past but because of it.
God can use your past. Even if all you want to do when you think of your wild (or judgmental or selfish or skeptical) college days is to crawl under the covers and wish for a do-over, God can use them. You might be standing with Baruch, weary and filled with anguish over a sin long since confessed and forgiven, but God doesn’t see that sin. He sees his child come home again. Like the prodigal father later in Luke’s Gospel, he delights in you. And he can take your absolved sin and turn it into a testimony or compassion or a hunger for him.
Would it be better if we hadn’t sinned? Of course. And yet, somehow, we are better forgiven than we were unfallen. “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20).
I’ve been thinking lately about my conversion, about why God reached in to my life when he did, about how many more conversions have been necessary even to bring me this far, and about how many more times I’ll need to be converted. It’s easy to be caught up in regret, but more often than not shame over forgiven sin is a tool the Devil uses to rob you of the freedom you have in Christ. Instead of being caught up in that, I’m thanking God that in his mercy he allowed me to fall.
If I hadn’t been such a mess before meeting Christ, I wouldn’t be able to speak with such conviction about the emptiness of life without him.
If I hadn’t been such a disaster of a new Christian, I wouldn’t know to encourage people to be gentle in their evangelization.
If I hadn’t been so judgmental, I might never have realized what a sinner I still am.
If I weren’t such a sinner I wouldn’t need him. And so I name my sin as evil and still I thank God that he makes all things work for God for those who love him (Romans 8:28).
It is good to repent of our sins. It is incredible that our repentance leads to complete forgiveness. Let’s also allow the Lord to give us the freedom of trusting that when he says he makes all things new, he means it.
You are not your sin. Let go of your shame and let God use your past for good.