Singer-songwriter Rich Mullins once said that the problem with humans is that we walk backward through life.
“We can’t see what is ahead,” he said, “and we can’t break free from what we’ve left behind.”
It’s a universal experience. I doubt there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t have given almost anything to get a glimpse of the future at specific points in their lives. Many of us would pay almost any price to finally shake loose from the hurts or regrets that still sometimes plague us. As for the rest of us, we’re tempted to nostalgically dream of the “good ole days.” What some of us wouldn’t give to go back? We have a complicated relationship with time, and whatever that looks like for you, there is one thing we all have in common. All of us are living our lives in reverse, struggling to figure out where we’re going, but keenly, sometimes painfully, mindful of where we’ve been.
In the time of Ezra, God’s people had to deal with their relationship to history and the seductive power nostalgia holds over all of us. The temple, the center of their religious and cultural life, had lain in ruins for more than 50 years after being destroyed by the Babylonian army a generation earlier. For a half-century, the people were in disarray, exiled from their homeland, scattered among the nations and unable to worship God according to the dictates of their faith. However, in Ezra 3, the people, released from their decades-long captivity, gather back together in Jerusalem. They rebuild the altar and lay the foundation for a new temple. It was a day of tremendous hope and joy. There were songs, offerings, prayers, trumpets and shouts of praise – a celebration unlike anything any of them had ever seen.
Except in verse 12, we read that some in the crowd – those who had seen the original temple – were weeping. No matter how magnificent this new structure might be, they just knew that it couldn’t possibly compare to the original.
Maybe they had a point. Perhaps this new temple would just be a cheap imitation of the original. Either way, God was calling them to move forward. Their nostalgia for their past was threatening to rob them of what God had planned for their future.
Throughout its pages, Scripture recognizes this tension between respect for the past and hope in the future. The Christian faith is a historical faith, a tradition rooted in thousands of years of history. The Bible is a historical document, a historiography of what happened and a spiritual interpretation of why. But the Biblical witness doesn’t just give a description of the past; it also lays out a prescription for the future. From the first words of Genesis to Revelation’s final warnings, the Bible continually pushes us forward. It calls us toward the coming kingdom – the world as God has promised it will one day be.
It is a world in which the Prophet Isaiah imagined that all nations, even those responsible for the temple’s destruction, would be “joined to the Lord.” It’s a world in which Jeremiah writes that everyone from the least to the greatest will know the Lord, that the divine law would be written on every heart, and our sin would be remembered no more.
The Prophet Zechariah imagined this world as a massive city that no wall could contain filled with people from every nation, language and ethnicity. Jesus saw it as a world where his people would ensure that the hungry are fed, the lonely are comforted and outsiders are welcomed in as friends. And the Apostle John saw all things being made new – no more crying, no more pain and every tear wiped away.
The Biblical writers call us to more than just a dream of this one-day reality. They invite us to join them in pressing forward into it. They challenge us to join the work of bringing God’s kingdom vision to life in the here and now and call us to pray that our hearts will begin to reflect our savior’s character. It’s a goal we’ll never fully reach on this side of eternity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep pressing forward.
Jason Koon is an ordained minister who lives in Morganton with his wife and two teenage daughters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!