The little boy had stolen something from his school. Now he was paying the price. He wished he could go back to yesterday and just leave the beach ball where he found it. But it was not to be. The paddle came down on his tender posterior. Whack! Whack! Whack! He wiped away the tears and headed back to class. If only it had never happened!
Fast forward a year or two and the same boy stands in front of his father, head dropped in shame. The tool he should never have held in his hands was broken. Not only that, he had attempted to hide it and even lied about it. The eyes that looked down on him were sad, not angry. Still, the miscreant wished he could go back to last week before he had taken the hammer from its place. The cloth belt swung through the air. Whack! Whack! Whack! As he cried, he wished that he had never even touched the tool! If only!
Again, we move quickly past another couple of years and look in on the boy at school. He is not in trouble this time, for a change.
The austere aspect of Mrs. Dunham’s countenance almost disappeared into the twinkle of her eyes as she pulled the large volume from the little cubbyhole behind her desk. Today, she would be introducing her students, most of them indifferent to her passion, to a subject she had studied extensively.
“Today students, we will begin to study Greek mythology, the study of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, as well as some of their distant relatives. We’ll be reading a number of stories over the next week or so. Yes, they are just made-up stories, but we can learn a lot from this ancient civilization.”
A collective groan went up from the sixth graders. Few of them had any interest in those stories. There was at least one however, who had read many of them before and was anxious to discuss them again. Over the next week, he was in his element, if only for the short time each day when they did their reading assignments and discussed yesterday’s. Zeus, Hermes, Poseidon, Hades–each one was discussed and their feats described, to his great delight.
But, he knew one story was coming, one that he hated–well, disliked greatly anyway.
Sure enough, the day came when Mrs. Dunham opened the book to the story of Pandora and her box. His face fell, and he wished that he had stayed home sick that day. This story, he had no interest in reading, nor in discussing. He couldn’t have told you why he disliked the story so. He just knew that it made him horribly uncomfortable.
In the story, Pandora herself was a gift from Zeus to his subjects. With her came a box. The box was sealed closed and the king of Olympus gave instructions that it was never to be opened. It almost goes without saying that the box eventually was opened. How could it be otherwise?
Pandora, on a day when no one else was around, sneaked to the box, stealthily lifting the lid. All she wanted was just one short glance inside–just one. But, as she lifted the lid, through the narrow crack came all manner of flying evils, the sins and diseases and hardships which would make man faint under their load for all of time. They all escaped, with no hope that they could be collected and stuffed back in the box again.
Suddenly aware that she had done a great evil, the lovely Pandora takes one more look into the box, just to see if perhaps she had avoided loosing at least one great horror on all of mankind. Just one small creature, the only being in the box which wasn’t evil, remained in the bottom of the box. Even so, it also flew as she opened the box wide. As it flew, however, she realized that it was the one thing which would give aid to mankind in its sad state. Amid all the evils, when all around was darkness and pain, there still would be hope.
The boy listened to the words once more and said to himself, “It’s not enough. If only she had resisted the temptation. If only.”
It has been long years since and the boy, now an aging man, long ago figured out the reason he dislikes the story of Pandora’s Box so bitterly. The story of Pandora is the disappointing story of everyman. There is not one of us who doesn’t wish that we had acted differently, spoken more gently, or taken a different course at some point in our life. The damage is done, the evil loosed on the world, and the only thing we can do is to go forward in hope that the future will be better. But, that almost seems just like wishing, not like anything solid at all.
We can’t go back. Words said in anger can’t be unsaid. Deeds done in malice can’t be undone. We can’t turn back the clock to take any of it back, or to do things differently. But, I don’t want to leave the impression that we are bereft of a remedy. You see, there is hope; there is a light in the darkness. Unlike the people who believed those Greek stories as their religion and were left at the mercy of gods and demi-gods who had none (mercy, that is), we don’t have such a God.
Grace holds out its hand as it tells us that the past doesn’t matter. Grace gives us the opportunity to start fresh today, with a clean slate erased of all the misdeeds of yesterday. The past is gone–wiped away. That grace is ours through the gift of a Savior, who says, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest from your heavy load. You don’t need to labor under the burden of the past another minute.” Simple faith opens the way forward. Unlike the story of Pandora, we’re not left with a weak and ineffective hero. No, our hope is a guarantee, not just a wish.
So, we’ll never again walk the paths we’ve already traveled. In a way, that in itself is a great gift. But, even though the penalty of the past is wiped away, we can still learn from it. We must learn from it.
We start here. Now. Where do we go from here? It is indeed dark behind us. And, we can stay right where we are, gazing into the darkness behind and wishing it were not so. But, ahead the light shines brightly, inviting us to keep moving. The road leads to the future and we may follow it with hope–real hope.
I think I want to take a stroll with hope–and you. What do you say?
“Fear not for the future; weep not for the past.”
(Percy Bysshe Shelley~English lyric poet~1792-1822)
“And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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