2012-03-28 - Not Looking Back
Jesus said to him, "Anyone who starts to plow and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62 TEV)
In Genesis 19, God told Lot and his wife to go and not look back when they left the cities he was destroying. Lot's wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That's a very disturbing story. Did God do that because she was disobedient, or was it specifically because she looked back?
In the New Testament, Jesus says to move forward with the plowing and not look back. It seems obvious that he's not literally talking about plowing, so what's the message here? How are we to understand verses like these? Are we supposed to just always look toards the future and never think about things that have happened in our lives before the present? Do these passages mean we should never think about things that happened to us last week, last month, last year, or years ago? Is it wrong to ever look back? Are we disobeying God if we think back on circumstances or relationships from our past?
I don't think so. When Lot's wife looked back, maybe she was longing for one last glance at a life full of sin, and ways of living that were displeasing to God. That verse about plowing and not "looking back" seems to be about not longing for the kind of life we left behind to follow Jesus, and not putting anyone or anything else before God. In that previous life, sin and selfishness were in charge, and God doesn't want us to be tempted to return to those ways. He wants us to turn away completely.
I think that, in this case, "forgetting" is like saying "don't dwell on it" or "don't keep replaying it." I think God is telling us to learn from the past and use it to keep perspective on our lives. We aren't supposed to spend enormous amounts of time replaying our sins and mistakes, or the sins and mistakes of others, in our minds over and over. Why? I think one reason is that because too much energy put into looking backwards doesn't leave enough for the present and future. God doesn't want us looking behind so much that we can't see where we're going. If we're not careful, we can get too caught up in picking apart the details of things that have already taken place and can't be changed. We can become discouraged or angry or ashamed, to the point of condemning ourselves or being bitter towards those who have wronged us.
Another reason is that too much looking back may pull us back towards sin. Remembering former aspects of our lives in certain skewed ways can tempt us to think we're "missing out" on something by obeying God and following Jesus. We can be tempted to return to old patterns or behaviors.
If our past is getting in our way, we must figure out how to put it in its proper place, so we don't keep tripping over it. This may involve forgiving ourselves and others, and accepting the things we can't change about our lives or about other people. This is a "coming to terms" that needs to happen so that we're not dragging all sorts of baggage with us, as we try and move forward.
God knows we are not literally capable of "forgetting" significant choices or things that have happened to us. That would mean denying parts of who we are. I don't think God wants us to do that. He doesn't want us to act as though important or painful circumstances never happened. Our past shapes who we are in the present - and helps us understand ourselves, our lives, and the world in general. Experience is how we gain wisdom and learn valuable lessons. Learning from a mistake (whether it is ours or someone else's) and remembering the lesson helps us not to repeat that mistake. It may have to do with our own choices, and may also have to do with the choices other people made that have impacted our lives. The point is how God brought us through those things, how He has healed and changed us. When the emphasis is where it should be, understanding our past helps us give glory to God in the present.