I am ashamed of many things I did when I was a teenager. And if I could, I would go back and try to stop myself from doing them. I imagine many people feel the same way. There are even things I’m ashamed of well into my twenties and even up until a couple of years ago. Again, I imagine there are many people who feel the same way. There are even things I regret, doing, not doing, saying, not saying, feeling and not feeling almost every day. I imagine there are many who would also feel the same way.
There is a question of how long something should be held against a person. It is understandable that having done something particularly bad that one might be expected to go a long time without doing something similar before they are trusted. It is also understandable that early expressions of regret and requests for forgiveness, might not be readily believed initially. This is the price of crossing these boundaries whether they are religious, social or both. I think that most people accept that with time and evidence of genuine contrition that someone can be forgiven. That their past sins will not be held against them.
When considering a person, one should not consider where they were but where they are today. If you knew someone in the past who had been a scoundrel, would you upon seeing them years later; contrite, ordered and happy; open up these wounds of the past? I would hope not.
Generally speaking, it makes people happy to hear stories about reformed criminals or drug addicts that overcame the sins of their past and went on to forge a successful life. This is true even of people who commit quite awful crimes. Jesus himself said:
I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.
And being myself a prodigal son and having witnessed others returning, I understand and appreciate this sentiment all the more now.
What is on my mind might obviously be the recent news about Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee to the US Supreme Court. Someone has come forward to speak against him more than thirty years after the incident. As fishy as this seems, I’ll go ahead and assume that this is in fact the truth. That he really did exactly what was said when he was a teenager; though I don’t believe based on the timing and other circumstances that he did.
Should this be held against him today? If the person he was then was substantially the same now (or worse), then I would respond in the affirmative. But if this was as they say a “youthful indiscretion”, and he has since gone on to live a genuinely good life, I don’t see why this should now be held against him.
Of course, whatever the truth of the matter, it has already been held against him and this will remain recorded and archived in documents and on the Internet probably long after he has died.
But if it the case that what one has done in the past should be held against them no matter what follows, what does anyone have to gain by trying to do better? What incentive is there for anyone to redeem themselves if they are always going to have their past sins held against them? And yes, I am thinking of my own transgressions as I write. If I’m never to escape them, why should I have tried? The Christian answer might be that we should bare the cross we have been forgiven, but this won’t be sufficient for many living today.
Maybe this is the kind of society they want. A society where everyone is covered in muck and anyone who manages to lift themselves out or stay above it, is to be pulled back down regardless. This of course is the very inverse of Christ’s promise to us which means we know where it comes from.
I am willing to pay and do justice for my sins. But there has to be a point, where this is forgiven. It seems that many Western legal systems are designed with this in mind but it is hard not to notice how far this has eroded.