The Danger of Nostalgia
"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (Genesis 1:3-5, ESV).
A Kia commercial declares, “If you're always looking back you can't see what's coming.” There’s actually wisdom in these words.
In the beginning, one of God’s first creations was time. While he is outside of time, we are not. And time moves in only one direction -- forward. The reality is that right now is where we are, the future is what’s next, and there’s no going back. The past is gone.
Paul understood this and declared, "But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13b-14, ESV).
Based on social media posts lately, people are longing for the good old days. Some mean carefree, maskless, pre-pandemic days. Others look back with longing at former decades to what they believe to have been simpler, better times.
In the Bible, nostalgically looking back isn’t a good thing. The classic examples are Lot’s wife who looks back longingly at Sodom -- something they were specifically told not to do -- and turns into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19). And there are the Children of Israel who escaped the bondage of Egypt, are in the desert with the presence of God going before them day and night, who look back and long for what God has rescued them out of. In Exodus 14, we can read where they grumbled against their leaders, cried and complained, even going so far as to wishing they had never been born!
They longed for better food, more comfortable times, completely forgetting that they had been slaves and subject to horrendous conditions. Those who look back with longing are often forgetting exactly how it was “way back then,” and view the past through the distorted lens of nostalgia and selective memory.
Nostalgia is dangerous. It involves looking back and either wanting to go back to a previous situation, or trying to recreate the past in the present. Neither is possible and neither is appropriate for the Christian life. Paul clearly declares, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As Christians, instead of nostalgically longing for the past we are called to recall where we came from and live in the present while anticipating the future.
There are several passages in the Bible that exhort us to, essentially, remember or recall what we’ve been delivered from.
Instead of looking back with longing, the Children of Israel were told, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).
We are to recall all that we have been taught and have learned from God’s word. And then we are to look forward with anticipation and hope as we continue right now to work out our salvation and grow in faith, “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
It’s good to recall and remember the past to provide a clear context for where we are and to remind us where we’re going. But it’s not healthy to long nostalgically for times that are past, no matter how good we think they were.
Even Cher knows you can't turn back time. Or, as C.S. Lewis puts it, "Reality never repeats."
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