Is it just my imagination, or are the skies actually bluer these days? They’re certainly quieter, with far fewer planes in their usual patterns overhead. Not exactly like the eerie silence in the days immediately following 9/11, but sufficiently reminiscent as to remind us how quickly our world can change. Individual lives can change in an instant, of course. There’s the doctor saying, “I’m afraid it’s cancer.” And the drunk driver suddenly shattering limbs and lives. In each instance, it’s a matter of coping with whatever life throws at us. But I’m thinking here of major cultural shifts. Anyone long for the days when there were no airport security checkpoints, no mass shootings, no robocalls or scammers? Shucks, maybe even no smart phones, no 24/7 “breaking news,” no (dare I say) Facebook? I want my old world back! Simpler, safer times!
Faced with the cataclysmic upheaval caused by this devastating pandemic, I find myself with a profound sense of loss, far greater even than the innocent world we left behind on 9/11. At least there was an identifiable enemy and practical ways to mitigate threats without disrupting daily life. With the coronavirus, we’ve lost, not just precious lives, but a vibrant, vital society, with all that entails. Sadly, the paradise we’ve just lost will not be paradise regained anytime soon.
Yes, I know. “The good old days” are not always as good as we remember. When the Israelites were fed up with eating nothing but manna in the wilderness (Num. 11:4-6), they looked back wistfully to the abundance of fish, cucumbers, onions,- and melons they had enjoyed in Egypt, quite forgetting that they had been slaves under back-breaking bondage! But this is one time when “the good old days”—just a few short months ago now—really and truly were better. With better times this fresh in our memory, how is it possible to so quickly forget them and move on? How do we lay claim to those aspirational words of the apostle Paul (Phil. 3:13), “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead”? (Imagine how Adam and Eve’s hearts must have sunk as they left Eden, thinking of the Garden they were leaving behind.)
Losing what has been precious to us cannot help but leave us with a deep-seated sense of loss, tempting us to dwell inordinately on the past. Far more personal than the catastrophic loss of society, I know that gut-wrenching feeling from a more intimate standpoint. The day my father suddenly died of a heart attack, everything in me wanted to scream, “I want him back!” Can’t help but think of Martha’s words to Jesus when Lazarus died: “If only you’d been here!” If only we could turn back the clock! In the midst of our current crisis, it could be other lost loved ones we want back. Or jobs and businesses we want back. Or gathered worship we want back. Or human touch and hugs we want back. But looking back won’t bring them back.
We’re not told exactly why Lot’s wife looked back, but it didn’t turn out well! (Gen. 19:26). And when Moses famously said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” the bigger problem was convincing his own people to let go of the past, whether it was Egypt’s food or Egypt’s idols. One thing is certain: Living life in the rear-view mirror instead of focusing on the road ahead can be disastrous…for broken nations, for historically-victimized races, for unhappy spouses, for embittered divorcees, for those who mourn, and even for shameful actions that can’t be undone.
With the skies so much clearer, perhaps we can see heaven more clearly. The best thing about eternity? In heaven, there’s no wistful past nor wishful future, only a contented, blissful present.