Putting Your Past in its Place

Georgene Rice interviews Steve Viars, author of “Putting  your Past in its Place: Moving Forward in Freedom and Forgiveness”. For those stymied by past events, he discusses how to replace guilt and despair with forgiveness and hope and turning failures into stepping stones for growth. He has served as a pastor and Biblical counselor at Faith Baptist Church, in Lafayette, Indiana for twenty years.

Georgene: Why are Americans so fascinated by the events and experiences of their past? Is this just an American phenomenon or just human nature.

Steve: It is something we all have. Not long after you think about the way you struggle, you wonder whether something unresolved from your past is affecting the decisions you make today. As Christians that should call us to the Scriptures to see what God’s word would have to say about all this.

Georgene: I think the assumption is that Christians should forget the things from the past.

Steve: In Philippians, Chapter 3, Paul says to forget the things that are behind you, but readers need to put that into context. He’s not talking about forgetting all the experiences you have had. He saying that the more he recognized the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, he needed to put all of his self-righteousness behind him.   

Georgene: Is focusing on our past a modern, secular psychology or is it something healthy for us to do when it is done as you describe it?

Steve: I think it is very healthy, because it is very Biblical. The two extremes that we often fall into are to either believing the past is nothing or to believe the past is everything. What I’m arguing for is a third way—developing a Biblical view of the past that helps us navigate around both of those ditches.

Georgene: You say, that by exploring God’s role of the past, that it makes our past useful. How do we do that and how does God intend for our past to inform our future? We know these are things that He has allowed to happen.

Steve: God is a precise God. One of the mistakes that we make is to think of our past as one big lump—either it’s all bad, or it’s all good. God intends for us to organize our past into Biblical categories. I encourage readers to answer two clarifying questions. First, are we talking about your innocent past or your guilty past? Are they times that you were sinned against, or the times that you sinned? The second question is, how did you respond? Did you respond well, or did you respond poorly.  Each category has answers from the Word of God, but you need to be sure you’re thinking of an event in the right category, so you can apply the appropriate Scriptural principle.

Georgene: For people who have strongly negative pasts, that they themselves have done, describe how they would go about taking the sting out of that kind of past.

Steve: That is the very reason I wrote the book. We often have this view that “big boys don’t cry” or we need to just “ignore the hurts from the past” or “wear a plastic smile”. That’s not even close to what the Word of God would say. Scripture has a very robust sufferology—it teaches me how to suffer well. I have to develop authenticity and candor. Like Psalm 61: 1-2 which says, “Hear my cry oh, God. Attend unto my prayer. When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I”.

Well, I can’t get to the “rock that is higher than I” – the personal relationship with God – unless I’m willing to be honest about crying out, and that my heart is overwhelmed. If I take the position that “big boys don’t cry”, then those times when I suffer, I’m going to suffer silently. I’m not going to be a good steward with what God has let into my life, and I’m not going to grow as a result. That will become a negative aspect of my past.

Georgene: What about those deep wounds when others are responsible for misusing you? What does the Scripture say about how to deal with that part of your past?

Steve: Each one of those has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and for the person to sit down with someone who knows the Scriptures well. They can hear the situation and help you lay out a Biblical course of action. But, Georgene, there are times when what needs to happen is that the person who offended them must be confronted. If that person has never been confronted or the offense addressed, that is a very serious situation for many reasons. Meeting with them, oftentimes with a third person who can be there with the Word of God to mediate that situation. Maybe that person will repent and maybe forgiveness can happen, and great instances of abuse can be put in its place.

Georgene: Is it always necessary for the perpetrator to admit their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness? Is it possible to deal with your past if there are unresolved issues?

Steve: Sometimes it is impossible to meet with your abuser. You can still deal with the past, but you must do everything that God wants you to do. But, too often, people will avoid that meeting and they become bitter and have not put the past in its place and are not able to find peace. I know that it’s hard. The person will say, “I’m not the one who started it” and that’s true, but through the power of Christ, they must sit down with that other person and attempt to make this right.

Georgene: You write about the joy that comes from viewing hard times God’s way. This notion of joy probably should be addressed.

Steve: Often folks believe that you can only be happy, only feel joy, when things are going your way. Many times we need a balance of blessings and trials. Right now, around Easter time, when we think of the cross, Jesus was very clear about that. He said we must “take up our cross” and follow Him. The cross was not a piece of jewelry that someone wore around their neck. It was an instrument of sacrifice and of torture, something that was very, very painful. Jesus said, in following Him there would be times we would suffer, but He also said He would never give us more than we could bear.

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