Here we are at the precipice of another year. The gyms are revving up their new year's campaigns, the self-help aisles in the book stores are fit to burst, and we're feeling the itch to make lists full of to-do's. But before we get too foam-at-the-mouth over this coming year, it may be helpful to think about the one we're leaving. When it comes to thinking about the past, we can make at least four mistakes:
Fatalism The fatalists are those among us who live by c'est la vie. This perspective sees the past as a series of uncontrollable events that "just happened." The fatalist views yesteryear like a line of dominos. One event touches another in a series that never stops. He copes with this by saying, "it is the way it is." He puts his head down. He moves on.
Activism The activist is the opposite of the fatalist. He's the can-do achiever who looks at the past like one big O.T.I. (which, according to previous coaches apparently means, "opportunity to improve.") Life doesn't happen to you, you happen to life, darn it, and life better watch out. The activist has a plan, has the will, and, if he ever references the past, only does so to achieve something in the future.
Futurism Speaking of the future, there's a fourth wrong way to look at the past, which is to neglect to do so at all. There are those among us who are futurists. If life were Disney World, they'd never leave Tomorrowland. The futurist is the one who says, "chin up, tomorrow will be better." Why does he say this? Who knows. But the futurist is convincing enough for himself, at least.
Victim-ism The final wrong perspective that eats our cultural lunch is victim-ism. The victim is like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh, always wondering, "Why did this have to happen to me?" In our therapeutic culture, blaming everyone else for our own issues is as natural as instgram-ing that totes hilarious situation you were in that one time (See what I did there?) But blaming others for the pain doesn't help it, it just deflects it.
This all begs the question. What is a good way to look at the past? May I suggest the robustly biblical answer, through the perspective of providence? Providence affirms the following:
God is Strong Enough to Order History Only Jesus reveals a God who is strong enough to rule over time without obliterating personhood. How do we know? Jesus had a clear destiny. Born to die and rise. Yet, he wasn't a machine. He was a real man with real experiences. No other religion offers such a Deity. Not a fatalistic tinkerer, a Sovereign Savior.
God is Good Enough to Account for the Pain "But what about those painful parts of last year?" God rules over those too. But only Jesus reveals the kind of God who is good enough to account for the pain. Why? Because he's experienced more suffering than any of his children ever will, he can say, "I know this hurts, but trust me," and we can believe him.
God is Gracious Enough to Gift and to Wound God loves to give gifts to us. Over and over, the New Testament describes God like a great daddy, eager to give beautifully wrapped gifts to his kids. But God does not only give grace wrapped in bows, but veiled in pain. These are those graces that grow us up, prune us, hurt us, and help us. Like weight on the spiritual bar, or surgery on the spiritual problem, it hurts. But a perspective of providence allows us to see that God is the kind of dad who not only gives presents, but pressure. And like a good dad, he's not interested in us just having what we want, but becoming who must.
So before you and I pop the corks and toast 2014, let's look backwards with some proper perspective, thankful to God for those graces that were obvious, as well as the ones that were veiled in suffering.