As a child I used to like to take out the box of photos at my grandmother’s house and look through the same ones I had examined scores of times—some of people on horseback that I am related to but never knew. When my grandmother died I learned she had thrown out all those photographed memories. My other grandmother threw hers out, too, as has my mother.
I asked my mother recently why she and my grandmothers threw out all the family photos in their old age without asking anyone if they would like them. My mom said it was because those photos reminded them of all the bad things that had happened in their lives.
This was an opportunity to convey to my mother a perspective that C.S. Lewis had shared on the life of a Christian. He said that salvation, when it comes to a person, has the wonderful effect of working both forward and backward. Now we usually think of only the present and future benefits of being saved. We tend to think that although our past lives were a waste and something to be regretted, at least we can derive some comfort from the post-conversion years. So, for example, if someone embraced the gospel at age 50 and lives to be 70, then two-sevenths of that person’s life would not have to be forgotten.
But C.S. Lewis points out that God’s salvation is so amazing because its joy works in reverse. This does not mean, of course, that we are glad we used to be a drug addict, or we lost our marriage through folly. But it does mean, as it says in Ecclesiastes, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” In other words, we can be comforted about many a bad start and the middle of a journey if in the end it all has worked out to bring us home. When we can in hindsight discern that God was, at every step, guiding us ineluctably with an unseen hand, this knowledge confers meaning on a blighted past.
On the other hand, if in the end one is not saved and does not respond to God’s patient appeal, then even all the enjoyable parts of one’s past will seem to have been under a curse, from the perspective of eternity.
So if you are a believer, don’t throw out the photo albums. Even if some of those images come with a sting, thank God that through it all He was moving you closer, ever closer, to Himself.