free — with a history?

It’s harder now that it’s over
It’s harder now that it’s over
Now that the cuffs are off
And you’re free
You’re free with a history 

So sings the perennially tortured Ryan Adams in Harder Now That It’s Over. And, although I’m not entirely sure I get what Ryan’s singing about, I think there’s something powerful in the image of being free with a history. It’s got legs (so to speak) when it comes to describing the way God forgives and renews us in Christ.

There’s a lot going for the traditional language of ‘being given a fresh start’ or ‘having my slate wiped clean’ — God does meet us with grace and mercy in Jesus, no matter our past (or present) failings and inadequacies; more, He puts His Spirit in us, giving us his own transforming power and presence. But this way of speaking does have some real limitations.

Turbine Hall Tate Modern

Turbine Hall Tate Modern by Guy Nesbitt, on Flickr

Most significantly, it can suggest that our regeneration marks not only a change of direction and identity (new birth, new family, new future, etc) but the irreversible entry into a radical new experience of godliness. What I mean is that if we imagine that someone’s pre-conversion habits, personality and character flaws suddenly become irrelevant once he or she becomes Christian, we’re kidding ourselves.

We may be free. But we still have our histories. And they still matter.

I suspect it’s worth finding ways to speak about forgiveness and Christian growth that don’t obscure this. Any suggestions?

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