Why Looking Back Won’t Get Us Anywhere

Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

When times are bad where do you look for hope? When evil is all around and pressing in where do you long to be? These questions are important. Although they may seem simple, there is disagreement as to which way we should look. Some Christians look backward and long for days of old, whereas others look forward to a time when God will make all things right. Does it matter which way we look? Is it ok to look one way or the other? Yes, it does matter. Although most people mean no harm, these are two fundamentally different sources of hope.

Many people remember the past as a pleasant time when things were better and problems were fewer. There are several reasons for this. We often remember back to our childhood when we were sheltered from many of the problems of this world. Our parents kept things from us. We did not spend a vast amount of our time watching the news or listening to talk radio. Times were good, or at least that is the way we remember it. We also tend to remember the good things over the bad. We reminisce about the good ol’ days, which really weren’t that good at all, but that is how we remember them.

There are some major flaws with looking backward rather than forward. The first is that it is impossible to go back to those days. No one can turn back time. Society and Culture does not regress, it progresses. Progress is neither good nor bad. Progress is what we make it. If the times are bad, we should not long for what is behind us, but instead work to make what is ahead of us better.

We should refrain from longing for former days because those days may have been good for some people, but they may have been terrible for others. There is a myth circulating among some American Christians that the 1950’s were a time of bliss. These Christians long to go back to this moment in time when they believe things were better. The problem is that there were many problems in the 1950’s just as there are today. Some things may have been better in that time period, but some things were worse. What does it say to people of color when they hear Christians say, “I wish things were like they used to be back then.” This was a time when segregation was still in place and racism was rampant. In the 1950’s people lived in fear of a nuclear holocaust, women were limited as to what they could do in society, and poverty was a major problem in the South.

Followers of God in the Bible did not look to the past for hope, but consistently looked to the future. The psalmists longed for God to act. They looked forward to God coming and judging the world. The prayer of the early church was not to go back to days of old, but was “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20) Our longing should not be for a time when things may have just been a little bit better. We should long for a day when all things will be made right. Wishing to go back to the 1950’s or any other time is not hope for the world. There are some people who would probably like to go back to the 1950’s, but there are many more people who would not like at all to go back. Going back will not solve our problems. Going back will not alleviate pain, hatred, violence, disease, and death. All the problems we face on a daily basis will still exist if we go back to another time.

Our hope is in the future. Our hope is in a day when Jesus will return and make all things right. Our hope is in resurrection and new heavens and new earth. We long for new creation, not simply a slightly better version of what we already have. God has made us promises better than anything we have ever experienced in the 1950’s or any other time. God will wipe away every tear. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain. Darkness will vanish. All evil will be done away with. We will receive new bodies and we will live with God forever.

Confusing the past with the future is a big mistake. We can learn from the past. We can get ideas from the past. We can remember the past with fondness and talk about it with others, but we long and hope for the future. We do not pray to go backwards. We pray for what is to come!

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Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

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