Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't Judge Me By My Past

As Seen On Facebook
This meme popped up this week and caught my attention. The text reads "Don't judge me by my past. I'm not in the past anymore. Accept me for who I am because this is me today." I want to examine this from a perspective of everyday life then a perspective of the worldview implications.

My First Thought
The big question that I want to ask anyone who posts this is "if we can't judge someone by their past, how are we to know whether someone is trustworthy or not?"

As I have written in my post "Is Faith Emotional or Logical?" trust requires that we examine a person's past. If we see a past that someone has been faithful to their word and has shown themselves to be worthy of trust, then placing our trust in them is not only smart, but it is perfectly logical. On the other hand if a person has shown themselves to be untrustworthy and does not keep their word, we should not place our confidence in them.



An Untrustworthy Past
I'm sure this meme (or general statement) comes from someone who has had, at least, a checkered past and who is trying to repair the damage to someone else's trust. I can understand the plea; however, it must be understood that people don't just trust someone because that person is acting trustworthy in the present moment. That is no guarantee or even a valid indicator of the person's future behavior. Trust must be earned. If there is a checkered past, it will take time to repair- there is no "quick fix". It is not logical for us to ask someone to ignore our past, nor is it wise for them to ignore our past.

A Double Standard
If we had a past full of strong trustworthiness and fulfilled promises, would we tell someone not to judge us by our past and only look at our present? No, in fact, we would appeal to our past to demonstrate how trustworthy we truly are. We cannot allow such a statement in one case, but not in another. The very act of doing so casts doubt on the intellectual honesty of a person, which if I were judging by the present action, I would judge that they are not trustworthy, ironically.

A Self-Defeating Notion
We also cannot forget that we often trust ourselves. When we come across a challenge, we approach it knowing that we have faced challenges in the past and can overcome them. We do not disregard our past and judge ourselves by the present moment. If that were true, then self-confidence has no foundation whatsoever. On the other hand we look to our history of circumstances to discover that we may not be able to accomplish something. I covered this in my post "Culture's Obsession With Self Confidence".

A Wrong Perception
I've been talking about a person's trustworthiness. But that depends on how another person perceives our actions. Many actions point clearly towards distrust. Many actions point clearly towards trust. Many also need to be more closely examined. It could be that we have placed trust in a person based on our misperception of their past as trustworthy when it truly is not, or we have lost trust in a person due to our misinterpretation of that person's past actions as being untrustworthy. I believe that many suffer from one of each. This is where I think that many people have conflict and distrust where it is not necessary and confidence where it is useless. Each of these on their own or combined together cause people to reject the truth of the Christian worldview.

The Incorrect Perception of Ourselves
As mentioned in the previous section, we examine our own past to discover our own reliability to accomplish something. However, we can misinterpret our own past, and thus place trust in ourselves when we are not truly worthy of it. It is extremely difficult to see an unreliability because we want to believe that we are able to do something (see "Culture's Obsession With Self-Help") rather than the truth that we cannot (see "Reasons In And Out Of A Worldview"). The first incorrect perception is of trust in ourselves to "save" us from whatever we happen to think is our problem.

Many people believe that they can "get to heaven" by being "good." On one end of the spectrum, this leads to legalistic religions that teach salvation by works; on the other end of the spectrum this leads to the inclusivistic understanding that everyone can get to heaven by being generally good or by keeping their own standard. The truth about every person's past is that we fail time and time again to meet a perfect moral standard. Interestingly, even those who don't hold to an objective moral standard often find that they fail their own standard- they must constantly change the "standard" if they wish to accurately claim that they are perfect. It simply cannot be accomplished, anyone who thinks that they can accomplish this are forced to take the illogical and unwise advice of the meme regarding themselves.

The Incorrect Perception Of God
Beyond believing that we can get to heaven on our own, one of the biggest challenges to people's acceptance of Christ is based in examining history and judging God by it. That can be personal history or history involving others. Many skeptics are quick to judge God's "evil" acts, yet they are unwilling to judge Him by His acts of mercy and grace. Since Christianity claims that God does not change and is perfectly moral, then His acts of mercy/grace and His acts of evil must be consistent with each other thus be perfectly moral.

The actions of mercy and grace are not the problem. The problem comes when someone sees an act of God that they believe is immoral. I wrote a couple weeks ago about the purposes that God has for allowing "evil" to take place (Tornadoes, Flat Tires, and Moore). To accomplish certain purposes, certain happenstances must take place. Our limited perspective makes it nearly impossible to determine that an "evil" has no greater purpose. I argue (against the advice of the meme) that we can examine God's history of having a higher purpose for the "evil" gives us logical reason to trust that the current evil we see also has a greater purpose.

In fact, going back to the reality that we cannot get to heaven on our own takes us directly into the greatest evil in history which has the greatest purpose. The murder of the perfect God-man, Jesus Christ. To torturously punish a person Who perfectly keeps the objective moral standard, and Who happens to be that standard Himself, is the greatest injustice and greatest evil there is. Not only is the perfect punished for what was not committed, but someone who is not the moral standard rejected the standard to the point of trying to destroy it and make himself God.

Conclusion
Our misperception of our own past and our misperception of God's past has caused many to reject the truth. As much as we may like to tell people to not look at our untrustworthy past, we need to examine it for ourselves. And as much as we want to insist that God has allowed evil in the past, we need to examine the truth of His life, death, and resurrection to spend eternity with us. Ignoring the past bad behavior of a person is illogical and unwise enough because it affects this finite life, but ignoring our own past bad behavior and God's past loving behavior takes the illogic and ignorance of the meme to an eternal level.