To what end do we suffer? To what end, really, do we fall on our faces? For what good are sin and folly and loss and waste?
We make such fools of ourselves! I'd hate to be in the same room at a party with the me of twenty years ago! I'd hide my face and pray that no one recognized us as the same guy!
Our past is, thank God, past! It is done! It will no longer plague us!
Jesus died to take it away as far as the east is from the west, etc.
And yet; and yet; and yet. . .
Was it all for nothing? Were we simply awaiting what Francis Thompson calls "love's uplifted stroke" in which our pasts vanish?
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
And yet, when love's uplifted stroke does come, when the great bruit corners him finally, he learns that his fate is more complex.
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child's mistake Fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at home
It is not annihilation of the past, but restoration and redemption even of "the dust o' the mounded years." That is what Francis Thompson says that Christ won for us. Not just salvation from our lives, but the salvation of our lives, present, future and past! Even the salvation of our past! What a savior!
In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh draws out this idea still further. His protagonist, Charles Ryder, gets involved in a very long term homosexual affair during college. Inevitable though the unraveling of that relationship is, it is decidedly portrayed as a precursor and tutor preparing Ryder to love women. Then, following a failed marriage, he falls and rises to the level of a passionate and destructive hetero affair. He is following his lust, and even more his desire to find love, from doomed attempt to doomed attempt. But futile as such a search is (we know this as we read, although Waugh shows us the respect to not sermonize) there is actually progress. Although he can't see it himself, his longings are being clarified, whittled down, sharpened along the way.
In the end, as his last love (for army life) dies, he finds "burning anew among the old stones" a very old flame that had gone unnoticed by the actors in his life. All of life, especially the central failures and long term sins, had been in essence a preparation for this new/old/eternal love which he had been avoiding and for which he had unknowingly been searching. They had been tutors to lead him ultimately to Christ. Even his past futile life was not obliterated, but rather fulfilled and redeemed by the coming of this unexpected love.
Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame--beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.
"Jesus and his glorious gospel, the ‘good news’—the unexpected turn of God becoming man, the scandal of grace—are the only things big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings—both now and forever." Paul Gould