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The past of the present

By Debbie Olujobi

At which stage in a man’s life is it okay to give up or perhaps give in? Considering I am regarded by most as a hopeless optimist, it’s a negative question to even contemplate. So maybe I should rephrase the question. When will the past stop influencing the present? And at what point should one throw in the towel and accept that the past is a yoke the present always has to carry? Most Christians celebrate their rebirth once they give their lives to Christ; it’s a new beginning; old things are passed away (supposedly).

Growth is constant and that means even without the reason of religion, we change who we are several times during the course of our lifetimes. Experience, circumstances and happenings change us and who we are can be different and even unrelated through the ages. The conundrum is this; are there things we have done, choices we have made that have taken us pass the point of no return?

My driver and sidekick took me on in an argument not too long ago and it was about the supposed new beginning and blanket forgiveness Christians claim when they become born again. He had gone to his village for a funeral and returned fuming over something that transpired. He started his story on a very sad note. His village had been under siege by a gang of youths and they terrorised everyone. They robbed openly, raped the women and killed indiscriminately. At one point in time, the villagers had formed a vigilante group and rounded up the gang, they had been lynched and their leader left for dead.

There was peace thereafter till this leader came back from the dead. He had apparently crawled into the bushes after he had been left for dead and resurfaced a few months later. He went on a revenge spree and was singlehandedly blamed for 13 assassinations before he disappeared again. The dread of him had sent everyone into panic and my driver had relocated to Lagos. Some of his friends and a cousin were part of those killed. This was over 17 years ago as he has been in my employ for close to 16.

So back to the present and he is filled with rage when he recounts his disgust and outrage at the presence of a pastor he saw when he was recently in the village. It’s the stuff  Bollywood and Nollywood are made of. The same gang leader had become born again and was now a pastor preaching the gospel. “How God go fit forgive that kind person?” Was the question that interjected all my explanations and sermonising. He showed me some mangled looking scars, mementoes he got from the pastor when he rained terror on the village.

With tears in his eyes, he recalls the unending funerals from the revenge spree that had him fleeing his home to become homeless in cold and hostile Lagos. He recalls starving and having to scavenge for food before he got a job driving a bus. I believe what hurt him the most was the death of the son he left behind in the village; he had not even dared go visit the boy when he was ill and could not attend the funeral. “God no fit forgive am ooo!!” He concluded.

I personally believe God is able to for give us all our sins if we are able to confess them and accept Him into our lives. That is a truth I strongly believe but that’s one side of the coin. Reality is the other side.  God’s forgiveness doesn’t always cancel the consequences of those past sins. The regenerated gangster turned pastor may be a changed man but he murdered many people and no one can condemn those crying for justice. Changing who we are won’t change what we have done and for some of us our present will be spent atoning for our past.

I had a few decisions to make this past week and just like everyone I found that there are some choices that I made in the past that will colour my present and future. I don’t believe in regrets and condemnation but that said, I still wonder what life would have been if I made more informed choices. Giving up when the past comes knocking is not an option; it is self defeating. Giving in to the reality that is a direct consequence of the past is better.  We just have to make the best of things.

I can’t presume to know what it feels like to be in the village pastor’s shoes. He epitomises the 23rd Psalm; He walks in the valley of the shadow of death daily. I don’t know what informed his former choices. I suspect drugs and fast living but they are mere excuses and  won’t satisfy everyone. I actually admire his courage; shame and fear would have kept most people away. He has to look into the eyes of people who hate him, who are hurt and angry and he has to preach forgiveness and reconciliation to the very people he plundered!!!

I can count it as grace that my life in the past left me with consequences that are a mere inconvenience in my present. To answer my own question, the past can’t be dismissed, the present has to carry the yoke of it. The sad truth is that some choices take us pass the point of no return and we have to live with that reality. Repentance and even  Restitution is often a part  of the reality of the present but even that won’t always be enough, some of us will pay for the past.


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