Ghosts of the Past
“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” Revelations 14:13
I was recently filling out an application to take the addiction medicine board certification test when I once again had to confront my past. On such applications, there is always some question about previous disciplinary actions against my medical license. I have nothing to hide, and I certainly don’t mind retelling the story of my addiction, but it was just another reminder that my past failures will never completely go away. Rather, they will follow me for the rest of my life. To some, I’ll always be known as that doctor who was addicted to drugs. My deeds follow me.
There are worse consequences though than others talking or thinking poorly of me. In my addiction I constantly behaved in a manner that was completely contrary to my beliefs. In doing so, I hurt those I love the most. Even if only my family knew about my addiction, I’d still have had a tremendous amount of guilt and shame over how I wounded them. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to repent and make amends for a lot of the hurt I’ve done. Not everyone is so fortunate though. There are some past injuries that cannot be repaired. Our deeds follow us.
Additionally, our past behavior shapes our brains in ways that aren’t easily undone. When I go to the pharmacy to pick up medications, I still occasionally find my eyes scanning the shelves behind the desk, looking for the opioid pain pills. Why? Do I still want those pills? No. Absolutely not. It’s simply an old ingrained behavior pattern that doesn’t go away. I’ve created self-destructive habits that aren’t easily abandoned. My deeds follow me.
The most significant and lasting consequence of our behavior – good or bad – is addressed in today’s passage. In it, John records how our deeds follow us even into the afterlife. Our behavior reflects that which we truly believe. If we live only for ourselves, we will one day stand before our maker and we will be condemned. If, however, we believe in Christ, and if that belief affects how we live, then we will one day be rewarded for our deeds. Our deeds follow us – even after death.
Daily, we have this choice. Daily, we can live only for ourselves, creating future ghosts that will haunt us for the rest of eternity. Or, we can daily abandon ourselves to follow God’s will. In doing so, we abandon shame and self-destruction, embracing the eternal life, joy, and peace for which we were created. We don’t have to live in misery, haunted by the ghosts of our past.