The issue of moving on or leaving your past behind is one which is relevant to us as we transition from one year to another. It is also a topic which the bible addresses in both the old and new testament. The book of Hebrews, particularly chapter 11, speaks of the “God of the future”, a difficult concept to grasp since the future is not yet.
In several parts of the Old Testament we read of people being called upon to leave something behind, to move on with their lives and to reach out for something new. We are called upon to embrace the future as uncertain and frightening as it might seem
One of the classic stories from the Old Testament that relates to this theme is the story of the people of Israel. They had lived under a condition of oppression for 400 years, a very long time indeed. As first it seems, they were accepted and were able to rise to prominence in Egypt. But things changed after a while. Most men were only afforded the position of brick layers. They labored under slave like conditions and were never accepted in these foreign lands, even after several generations. It reminds one of the plight of immigrants, who often find themselves strangers in their adopted land and alienated from where they came. In essence they belong nowhere.
And we are told in the book of exodus that the people cried out, and God heard their cry:
Exodus 3.7 “The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”
The story can be compared to our own personal lives. We cry and cry, we plead and plead and God says ok, its time. It’s time to move on. We don’t know which clock he uses, we don’t know which time zone God follows but when its time its time. Let’s Go. It is interesting to reflect on this notion of timeliness, it terms of how God works. Ecclesiastes 3.1 says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under the heavens.” God has his own appointed hour to act on our behalf.
So the people of Israel left everything and followed their charismatic leader Moses out of Egypt.
But before long they began to complain. It was too hot, it was too cold, there was not enough food. They were tired of eating the same food over and over. Manna in the desert just did not cut if for breakfast lunch and dinner every day. Very soon they wanted to return to Egypt. Numbers 14. 1 says:
“That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
This is so typical of us as human beings, we want change and when it comes we want to return to our former state. We also find in the story another human trait, when everything goes wrong blame the leader.
Let’s look a little more carefully at this issue of going back. Many persons today seem to be caught in the past. The bible puts forward three reasons why we get stuck in the past.
First, some people cannot get over the “good old days”. There are bars everywhere that make tons of money because once a week, people need to go there to relate their same old boring story over, and over and over. The song Piano Man by Billy Joel captures this sentiment well:
It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin.
He says, "Son, can you play me a memory?
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger lad's clothes."
We, reminiscing about the past, trying to relive past glories.
Secondly, there are some people who live a life of regret.
They take their two regret pills every morning with a glass of water before meals.
Every morning they have to recount what should have been. The boyfriend they broke up with, the girl they should have married, the dog that died when they accidentally left the back yard gate open and “Fifi” got run over by a garbage truck.
The abortion they had when they were 16. The exam they failed. The job they never got. The list goes on and on.
We take our regret pills and bat and we beat ourselves over the head with it every day. And there are always people there to remind us of our mistakes and regrets. We have go back to the past and dig up some dirt.
The third reason we don’t move on is because we are afraid of something new. We are afraid of change. Like the Israelites we want change but we don’t really want to change. The future is frightening, change is frightening, and we don’t really want to move on.
Part of the problem is that we can relate to a God of the past and present and not the future, though God is constantly calling out to us to be new people, to embrace the future. But how can you embrace something that hasn’t happened yet? So in the end we go back to the past, to our old life and our bad habits. The past is not so bad after all.
As a new year begins I feel all of us are being called to embrace change and to move on. But only God can give us the courage to embrace change. We have to put God in the center of our future. Let's ask God for the courage to move forward.
We have to pray for real change and transformation. We have to let go and let God.
Happy New Year!