If every past version of you is an idiot, there’s an inescapable conclusion about the current you

It is not at all uncommon to sit down, consider what you were like a few years ago and think, ‘I was such an idiot’. It is also common for that to become a repeated cycle. Every few years, as you reflect on the kind of person you were or the choices you made, the current you considers your past self and renders them a colossal fool. It seems to be one of those human traits to perceive any past version of you to be stupid.

That, of course, reveals another fairly human belief about ourselves; namely, that the current version of you is not an idiot. We look back on our past selves and bemoan our cretinous behaviour on the grounds that we now consider ourselves to be well-rounded and altogether more thoughtful and capable. Knowing what we know now, we think, we can assess these things rightly and may properly pronounce any past version of ourselves as idiots. From the lofty perch of our current self we look back and mock our past selves.

The problem, of course, is that you are in a cycle. Whilst you look back and laugh at your past self for its idiocy, your future self will inevitably say the same about your current iteration. If the person you were a few years ago is an idiot, basing that on the version of you considering the matter today, the person you will be a few years hence will inevitably look back and consider your current self a blockhead.

If you consider your past self an idiot today, and your future self will consider you an idiot tomorrow, we are led to one inescapable conclusion: we are all idiots.

You may not realise your idiocy today, but you will see it as clear as day in a few years time. Some of you may be kicking against this fact. Let me ask you this: if you see later on that you were – in point of fact – an idiot today, which version of yourself is correct? The one assessing it at this precise moment or the one assessing things from the vantage point of hindsight along with everything you know now and the addition of a few more years of experience? In fact, the biggest idiot of them all is the one that refuses to acknowledge their past idiocy and, even less, join the dots to their current standing as one. From one idiot to another, take it from me: we’re all idiots.

You may wonder why I bother to bring this up. Isn’t it a bit insulting to call you an idiot on your commute to work, or over your cornflakes, or whenever it is that you read this? Well maybe. But you are, and so am I. Don’t take my word for it, just ask yourself in five or ten years time.

The reason I say it is to suggest that you give yourself a break. Past you was stupid, we can all look back in our own lives and assent to the same in ourselves. That means future you will think current you is stupid. Even further into the future, another version of you will that future you is stupid and so on ad infinitum (or, at least, until you die). Essentially, every future you will think every past you is an idiot and you, being you, will definitely think future you is right at the time (just as you think you are right about past you today).

So what can we do about this idiot paradox? First, remember that you are (or, at least, will soon believe you were) an idiot. This will help temper your language and opinions on a whole host of issues that, when we look back, might limit our particular view of ourselves at any given moment. Second, just as ours is a God of grace who loves us despite ourselves, remember the gospel when you consider your past self. Remember that, although you may have been an idiot, where idiocy abounds, grace abounds all the more. If we are to be effective sharers of the gospel, it helps to apply the gospel to ourselves first. Third, in the same vein, if Christ no longer counts you an idiot but a belovéd son, remind yourself of this glorious truth before your berate your past self. Fourth, remember that children grow. If you wouldn’t mock your toddler because they haven’t yet learnt to tie their shoelaces, nor would you encourage them to think back and consider themselves stupid at the point they have learnt to do it, give yourself a break. Incidentally, if it turned out you would do that, you are a bigger idiot than you realise! The work of sanctification will take a lifetime and, just as children grow incrementally and slowly, so will you. Finally, remember that we’re all idiots. We all sin, we all do stupid stuff, we all fail the Lord. If you’ve got any grace for others, give yourself a little too because we’re all in the same boat. If your frustration at yourself mirrors your approach to others, revisit points two and three.