“Watch yourselves carefully“, warns Jesus. “You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.“(Luke 13:3)
And not just all over town in this internet age.
I’ve been sorting out all those files I’ve accumulated during the 25 years I’ve been vicar of Christ Church, Aughton. Most are destined for recycling – which is just as well for some of my correspondents.
In fact, some would be altogether embarrassed, even horrified, to read what they dispatched to the vicarage all those years ago. At the time I’m sure they meant well but let’s say they made their point forcefully.
Over the years I always took a deep breath and donned my body armour before opening any hand-delivered letter addressed to the vicar. I learnt for my own personal protection to skim their contents rather than to read line-by-line.
But that’s now all in the past and more to the point, now all in the shredder. Which is just as well for everyone concerned.
However, this is not the case for digital communications such as the blog are you are now reading. When I press SEND there is no going back, no recall. It is out there for ever, for everywhere and more to the point, for everyone to read. To say the least, I need to be careful.
Again to quote Jesus, using the Message translation.”Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously.“ (Matthew 12:36)
There was a fascinating article in the Guardian this Monday on the mental health of young people today. According to the Prince’s Trust its UK Youth Index shows amongst other things how social media is undermining their confidence in facing the future.
“People can’t make mistakes anymore because it will always come back to haunt them,” complains 17-year-old student Theo from Kent. “Every single stupid decision is forever saved online, which makes growing up harder as you have to learn and grow from these embarrassing things.”
And of course, it’s not just young people.
You may have read of how Google recently lost a landmark case taken against it by an unnamed businessman, forcing our favourite search engine to remove results about his now-spent criminal conviction. Mr Justice Warby ruled that the claimant in this particular case has the right to be forgotten.
It’s worth adding that one important consideration for the judge is that this aggrieved businessman had shown remorse.
Of course, when it comes to our relationship with God and our life choices, large and small, we have no right to be forgotten. There is the Reckoning as we stand before the judgement seat of Christ. “Every one of these careless words,” says Jesus.
However, once we decide to surrender to Christ, there is a new dynamic. God forgets, the ultimate oxymoron.
I remember as a young Christian being moved by a particular metaphor of the bulk eraser for magnetic recording tape. No need for a ponderous reel-to-reel erasure of our sins against God. Just one press of the button does the job. Such is the power of the cross of Jesus that our sins are not just forgiven by God but forgotten, wiped out, erased. Just like that. `
So the apostle Paul rejoices: “God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Here Billy Graham answers the obvious question, “How is this possible?“
“On a human level it isn’t, of course; we may remember what someone did to hurt us as long as we live (unless disease robs us of our memories). But with God it is possible; He is able to blot out our sins so completely that it is as if they had never existed. The Psalmist declared, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
The Gospel promises us a fresh start as a direct result of God forgetting our wrongdoings against him and against each other. An awesome amnesia.
And if this is how God forgives us, it goes without saying – as Jesus repeatedly taught – that is how we are to forgive each other. Effectively to forget, to all intents and purposes, to erase the memory.
“To all intents and purposes” is the key. Of course, our memory cells may still be functioning and the recollection of some hurts inevitably stays with us.
But we aim to act as if we have actually forgotten those hurts and wrongs. We certainly do not nurse these grievances in the sick bay.
And as we behave as if we have forgotten, guess what happens? We forget. That’s how the Holy Spirit works: he honours our decisions to live by Kingdom values.
C S Lewis famously saw this. “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.“
Of course, the reality is that we cannot change the past. However, when we live lives of forgiveness and forgetfulness, we will certainly change the future. And this future is where we are all heading, the glorious future where we have no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
So keep your spiritual shredder working.