Friday, October 19, 2007


I have spent many hours in nostalgiac reverie. Earl’s sermon a few weeks ago spoke about letting Jesus be lord of the past, specifically noting that replaying counterfactuals (Earl didn’t use that phrase – he knows how to talk like a normal human) is tantamount to believing that God didn’t get it right.

This seems counterintuitive at first. It is our actions, not God’s, which we replay with a counterfactual. “If only I had waited for that second job offer…if only I hadn’t lost my temper…” We don’t think of this as blaming God, or not trusting him. It’s blaming ourselves.

But God has subsequently made adjustments. Whatever has gone by, He has responded to for our ultimate benefit and His glory. To play the counterfactuals in our heads is to deny that. I hadn’t looked at it that way before. The sin of not trusting God about the past just went from nowhere on my radar to #1 in the blink of an eye, because I have done this for years.

In the secular sphere, people often tell us to let go of the past because “we can’t do anything about it.” That’s true as far as it goes, but most of us regard daydreaming as cheap entertainment. Learning something new takes work, but wandering around familiar neighborhoods gives us a lot of the payback of intellectual stimulation without the effort. We can also pretend we are learning something so that we’ll make better decisions next time. This is theoretically true, but we seldom get that much benefit out of replays.

Tieing it in to my new favorite topic, such playing with the past also envourages us to see narratives that aren’t there. We gradually reshape our memories to make them fit existing stories, or search them for evidence which proves our favorite theories. Thus, playing with counterfactuals about our own lives in this way can make us less able to deal with the present and future, not more. We become less “ready for anything,” more “ready only for certain outcomes.” That can’t help much in listening for God’s direction.

Merely wasting time in reverie I didn’t mind so much. I always figured I had enough gray cells to spare while still getting the laundry done and my shoes on the correct feet. Plus, it’s an inexpensive medium of entertainment, as I said. But learning that this practice actively interferes with my hearing and trusting God, and obstructs my understanding of how the world works, it’s time to set it aside. I’ve thought enough about my own past.


Unknown said...

Illegal aliens have murdered over 1,000,000 American citizens since 1848.

More than 90% of both perps and visctims believed in god, most of them in JC.

With religion, we get a negative "eventus stultorum magister."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

ron's rather a one-trick pony, it seems.

David Foster said...

To what extent would these idea about "thinking about the past" also apply to the collective past?, that of a nation, religion, corporation, etc?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Great question. That bears thinking about.

ScurvyOaks said...

Great, great post, AVI. I've worried about these questions for years and always ended up slightly double-minded on the subject. The majority report, to be sure, is based straight on Romans 8:28, but my mind is not as disciplined as it should be (needless to say). I was recently wandering through these matters a bit with a comment on Rod Dreher's blog, CrunchyCons. Rod had an interesting post on "The odyssey years" that led me to comment with some reflections. His post:

I really recommend Rod's blog, btw. He's wrong about the Iraq war, and has an unfortunate fondness for NPR, but right about most everything else. (Also a neighbor and a great guy.) I try to cross-polinate a bit between here and there.