Going back…

I walk my dog every morning. We have a pretty good routine. At least a routine I can get him to do anyway. He’s not really a morning dog. He used to do really well – I could take him for three miles walks in the morning – good for both him and me. But then he became resistant to those walks and I didn’t feel like fighting that battle.

Here’s something I’ve noticed over time with my dog. He has a tendency to focus on one item. And when he does, it’s next to impossible to get him to change focuses. If it’s a rabbit, look out. He forgets he is on a leash and attempts to make a mad dash to get the obviously dangerous rabbit threatening the neighborhood (Maybe he’s a Monty Python fan?). And he will focus intently on that rabbit. Same for other dogs we come across. It’s so bad that if the dog is behind us, he will continually look back. Look back. Look back. Look back. To the point that he is not watching where he is going. I can’t tell you how many times he has walked into something because he’s looking back and not paying attention to what is coming in front of him.

He’s walking forward, but looking back.

That’s humanity in a nut shell. Walking forward, but with intense focus on the past. For some reason humans have this intense desire to focus on the past. I don’t get it. Sure, we should study the past and learn from the past. But like my dog, if all we focus on is the past, then we are going to walking into things as we go forward.

You can’t recreate the past. You can’t make anything great again – which is really about going to the past again, but not even the real past. It’s a fictional airbrushed past. You can’t recreate the past because everything has changed. People, culture, technology, politics, religion, faith, inflation, work, transportation, sports, climate, the environment, rights, freedoms, etc. Everything changes. That’s what living things do. We cannot ever go back and recreate the past. Nor should we ever want to. When we value the past more than the present or the future, we are devaluing the gift that God gives us. We are saying that we don’t trust God either because we are telegraphing that the best days are in the past, not in the promised future that is to come – essentially saying that we don’t trust God. How does that idea match up with faith and hope? It doesn’t.

Humanity has never learned this lesson. There are numerous examples. Take Scripture. How many times does Israel want to go back to Egypt after God has set them free from slavery? Numerous. When the Israelites leave Egypt it’s not long into their wilderness journey that they complain to Moses and want to go back. They airbrushed the past. It’s an addiction – a sad addiction really. And just as destructive. Long after that generation dies off, Israel is still clamoring to go back to Egypt. The Exodus story supposedly takes place around 1250 BCE. When Jeremiah is doing his thing, it’s around 600 BCE – approximately 600 years later. You’d think Israel would have moved on past wanting to go back to Egypt by then. But no, they haven’t. Listen to what the Lord speaks to them through the prophet:

13 But if you say, “We won’t live in this land,” you will disobey the Lord your God. 14 And if you insist, “No, we’re going to live in Egypt, where there’s no war, battle alarms, or hunger, and there we will stay,” 15 then listen to the Lord’s word, you remaining Judeans. The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: If you are determined to go to Egypt and you then go and live there, 16 then the war you fear will seize you in the land of Egypt; and the famine you dread will hunt you down in Egypt, and there you will die.17 Every one of you who is determined to go and live in Egypt will die by the sword, famine, and disease. No one will escape the disaster that I will bring upon them there.

18 The Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, proclaims: Just as my fierce anger was poured out on the people of Jerusalem, so it will be poured out on you if you go to Egypt. You will become an object of cursing, scorn, shock, and disgrace. And you will never see this place again. 19 You who survive from Judah, the Lord has told you: Don’t go to Egypt.” (Jeremiah 42:13-19, NVRS)

Why do people desire to go back to places and relationships where they suffered great abuse and pain? to re-write things? To change things? To fall back into some kind of habit in which they didn’t have responsibility? To avenge? To shut down? I don’t know.

What I do know if that abusive systems don’t just abuse while they are active. They continue to abuse, cause pain and suffering, and bring about destruction long after they are dead and gone. All you need to do is look at society. Slavery ended in the middle of the 1800s. And yet we are still dealing with its effects. And there are large segments of society that won’t even acknowledge or deal with the history. And so we are doomed to continue to deal with the effects. And continue to suffer from an abusive system that isn’t even around anymore. But the effects are.

There are plenty of other such things that could be named – abusive systems that we pretend don’t exist or have no effect on us. Greed, manipulation, racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, xenophobia – anything that strips the image of God from others or devalues creation. Abusive systems, at their core, are just humanity’s way of stripping God, nailing Jesus to a cross and killing him yet again in an effort to control God and take God’s place. Humanity thinks that we can make God into our own image and likeness. Humanity thinks that if we had the power of God, then we would use it for our own purposes and advance our own power. But that’s not Godliness, that’s narcissism which is the antithesis of Godliness.

We can’t go back. Ever. Stop focusing on going back. It’s well past time for humanity to learn that it never works.


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