One of his hits is “Who says you can’t go home?” It’s all about a person who has traveled the world and done amazing things but has this desire to return back home.
The problem is even if you do go back home, or back to the past, it’s just not the same. You literally can’t go back to the way it was, to the way that was familiar. That’s because you’ve changed and so has where you are going back to. And they are not the same changes.
In seminary our family lived in Finland for a year. Would I like to go back to living in Finland, like I did in seminary – absolutely. And at the same time, I recognize that it’s not the same and neither am I. It wouldn’t be the same. It would be something new again. And actually harder because I would probably come with certain expectations and assumptions, but they would not be valid any longer. Our family has changed – the kids are older with one in college now. My life has changed in that time too. I can’t ever go back to the way it was.
The idea of going back is comforting. It’s something familiar. We often remember the past, not as the past actually was, but as we prefer to remember it. We do our own little editing of the past for our own benefit.
Going back might sound wonderful to some people but try to implement it in practical ways. If you are really want to go back then you better be prepared to reverse time. Better give up whatever technology and wisdom and knowledge you have gained. Better go back to that job you had, with that salary. Good luck changing the culture to go back to what it was. All those conveniences you have now, you’ll need to turn those in too. Along with medical advancements. And that’s not counting family members – try getting people to be younger. Speaking of which, how’s your body now compared to that golden age time you want to go back to? How are you planning on reversing that?
You literally can’t ever go back. No matter how much you want to. You will only be disappointed with your effort to go back. And with disappointment, you’ll need to find someone to blame because we all know that you won’t be blaming yourself will you? Obviously it must be someone else’s fault that things are not returning to the way that you want it to be in your mind. Why can’t they read your mind, and set things up the way you remember them? Oh, that’s right, they didn’t experience the same thing as you.
This is especially a problem in the church in America right now. We have lots of folks who want to return to a “golden age” of the church.” For them the golden age was some time last century and it is full of memories of the churches being full on Sunday, with lots of young families and children around, thriving Sunday school classes, and the culture making adjustments on behalf of the church – remember how everything was closed on Sundays?
No, I don’t remember that. See, this is the problem. Your memories are not everyone’s memories. I don’t remember a time when the church was full or there were lots of young families and children in church. I’m not young either – I’m 46. My children have no memory of this either.
Here’s the world they have grown up in – there has always been political partisan conflict that is very heated and demonizing. There has more often than not been economic challenges. The US has always been the lone super power. We have always been fighting against an ambiguous enemy. The idea that there were restrictions on interracial marriage sounds ridiculous and always has. LGBTQ people have always been able to be married. And the ecological problems we face have always been getting worse while we continue to ignore the clear warning signs. That’s their world. There is no golden age of the church for them. More often than not they see the church as the biggest obstacle to the Good News because they see Christians spewing hatred and fear, creating idols out of politicians, judging people, and saying one thing about loving people while doing the exact opposite. That’s what they remember about the church.
If our focus is to return to some past – either imagined or real, then our focus is poorly placed. No where in Scripture does God call on followers to idolize and desire to go back to the past. No where. Even when people are called to return to a location, there is a call to go forward. And God lays out that path with a focus that is outward oriented – loving our neighbors, welcoming strangers, seeking justice for the poor and oppressed, and being good stewards. It’s never a call to turn inward on oneself, or try to recreate a past that in all honestly was never as good as it was remembered to be. It never worked as well as we convinced our selves that it did.
Why would they want to go back? The future, God’s future, presents an opportunity and hope. Why wouldn’t we want to move towards it? The desire to go back is placing one’s hope in a time that no longer exists. It’s saying that the best was in the past. Where is the hope in that? And how does that match up with God’s continuing message of hope? Focusing on the past is a rejection of what God is promising and pulling us towards – a promise of a better future full of transformation, shalom, peace, and love. Is any past that we possibly remember better than that? If so, then what’s the point of having faith in God at all? Focusing on the past and preferring it means that we don’t actually believe God’s promises. We have our own version of heaven in the past.
And if we are going to recreate the past, then we’ll also need to bring back injustices that harm people. So is our hope in the past really just a selfish desire for what is best for oneself, rather than what is best for all – a wholeness of creation. See that’s what God’s hope for the future is all about. It’s the Kingdom of God based on Shalom – wholeness and completeness. It’s full of justice for all, not just for some.
Sorry, Jon Bon Jovi, but you can’t go back. And why would you want to anyway? The best is yet to come.