What Happened

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about God’s plan for me. Despite my best efforts, this means that I’ve also spent some time looking into my own past.

I know it seems like it’s completely unrelated, but a movie quote from “The Matrix: Reloaded” keeps resurfacing in my mind. Morpheus tells Neo and Trinity “What happened, happened, and could not have happened any other way.”

It’s painfully easy to look back at mistakes that I’ve made in the past and second guess decisions. Words I’ve said, or left unsaid. Things I’ve done or left undone. People I’ve let down, and people to whom I clung for too long. Regret is a very human enterprise; we can imagine how things could have gone differently if we had changed one thing. Such an exercise can be at once liberating and maddening, but ultimately it’s futile. What happened, happened. No amount of longing or wanting or praying can change it.

Lately, I prefer to take a different tack, and view the past through the lens of God’s plan. Once my vision is colored by that lens, it becomes easy in hindsight to look back at the confluence of events that led me here and say that I was on a path, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. The Grand Clockwork of which we’re all a part, the Invisible Machine, continued to turn even though I was unaware of its machinations, and the invisible hand of my Lord was guiding me towards Him.

That can be a great relief if I consider it in the right context. Some people consider that to be fatalism, as if saying that I am part of a “Plan” means that I have no agency. I disagree with that interpretation; I know that I am responsible for my own actions, and that I can make choices to stray from God’s path. I know this because I have done so. But the relief surfaces when I consider that a thousand tiny stimuli guided me towards the path that I’m on now, and that those stimuli were no accident. When looking at only two or three points on a data plot, coincidence can make it easy to identify false trends. When there are hundreds of congruent points, a best-fit line no longer represents coincidence; that is called correlation. When those data points lead me to a decision, that is called causality.

For today’s two verses, I turn again to my dear friend Paul the Apostle. In his letter to Philippi, he emphasizes the importance of forgetting the past. Paul, once a sinner and blasphemer himself, would know better than most the import of releasing oneself from past infractions. Dwelling in that past, he says, will not make us better in the eyes of God. Only moving towards Him can do that. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

In his second letter to Corinth, he exclaims the joy of having shed the old skin of the past: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is another source of relief: the old me is gone, and all the decisions he made have been molted away. The result is a fresh me, tender and raw, but born anew.

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