One of the most difficult things for people to do is overcome the past. Mental health providers, social service persons, psychiatric practitioners and even the religious community will all attest to the fact that “issues” from the past continue to reverberate and ricochet into the present of most people’s lives, causing a whole range of consequences from toxic relationships to emotional handicaps to even physical illnesses.
The concept isn’t new. We have long recognized that “the child is father of the man” and “what is past is prologue” in our lives. Helping people find a way to cast off the baggage of the past is one of the most difficult tasks in ministry.
Pastors and Christian counselors spend inordinate amounts of time trying to help people let go of the guilt and blame they carry for mistakes of the past and encouraging them to open themselves to the healing and wholeness God has promised for all our lives. This is critical, for without this release of the past, people continue to lead lives filled with pain that is masked but never eliminated. It is much like taking medicine to eradicate the symptoms of a disease but never being healed of the disease itself.
The internal conflict related to the past is nowhere more critical than in the lives of women. More women seem to be afflicted with the burden of the unforgettable and unforgivable past because we make up the largest percentage of the church.
In addition, women are more likely to have certain burdens of the past because society has had a “double standard” of conduct and behavior for women, and women who have “missed the mark” have had their own as well as society’s condemnation to live with.
In spite of the many changes sweeping the world because of the existence of multinational corporations and global economic success, there are still many areas in which the traditional roles of women have not changed. Even with communication and travel bringing the light of modernity to virtually every corner of the globe, we are still often shocked to find those antiquated systems that stifle the personal development of women, limit education and maintain systems that negate basic, human rights—socially, economically, legally.
The church should be a place on which the world system does not intrude. Unfortunately, judgments are too often made about our sisters in Christ that relegate them to positions of inferiority and failure based on subjective criteria. They are “disqualified” from leadership, service, ministry, even full participation in the life of the church based on their past experiences, failures, poor decisions, ethnicity and education.
Disqualified is a word women hear much too often. They are told they don’t “qualify” for the mortgage, the promotion, the job, the membership in the club. Even in church women who desire leadership roles are told they are disqualified by their gender.
And how many women have aspired to be used by God but believe that the past disqualifies them for a future in Him?
Poor choices, questionable lifestyles and a history of “failures” have made many women fail to seek, aspire to, accept or embrace their God-ordained future. They don’t understand that God sees us not as we were nor as we are but as He created us to be: fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, fully engaged, enlightened and empowered by the love of God.
The many women in the Bible prove that God does not disqualify us because of our pasts or for any of the reasons that society does today.
For example, we aren’t disqualified because we are too old. Look at Sarah. We aren’t disqualified because we belong to the wrong ethnic group. Look at Esther. We aren’t disqualified because we are poor. Look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. In today’s world, Ruth would have been an unregistered alien, but God gives her a prominent place in the history of His people.
And what about Rahab? Perhaps no other story of a woman in the Bible is as powerful a testimony of redemption and grace as the story of Rahab, the harlot of Jericho.
According to both our current standards and the standards of her times, Rahab was a “fallen” woman. She practiced a despised profession in the city of Jericho, a city that had been cursed for the inhospitable way it had treated the children of Israel as they passed on their way from the wilderness to the Promised Land. Rahab had so many strikes against her that anyone looking at her life would believe there was no hope for a positive future.
But this woman became a savior of her family and played an important part in the military conquest of the city by the Jews. In addition she became an ancestor of Jesus. Her life is a powerful illustration of the redemption Christ provides to us and how He can give power and purpose to the most negative life.