Death from Nostalgia :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

Scripture References: Numbers 11:5; Luke 9:61-62; 1 Corinthians 13:11

Nostalgia is defined as looking back to events and times in the past with both affection and a yearning to return to those times. It’s not wrong to think back to better days and younger ages, but the problem comes when someone yearns so much for things to be “as they once were” that they fail to see what they can do in the present day that will better themselves, their families, relationships with others, and the opportunity for personal growth, improvement, and maturity.

For example, I once served a congregation of mostly senior adults and a couple of young families. They were wonderful people, but they were content to keep things as they were and tended to dwell on past successes and the work of beloved former pastors, and in turn, closed themselves to any innovative ideas that could have brought more visitors to the services and new opportunities for outreach and care. These dear souls, for example, wanted me to try and convince members who had not been to church in years to return. If they had not darkened the doors of the church in that long a time, then it was time to cut ties with them and go out to visit the neighborhood and invite fresh faces to the fellowship.

Another issue that minimized visitors and general attendance was the church’s physical condition. It desperately needed new carpeting, a paint job, some landscaping, and a good deep cleaning. Of course, this would cost a considerable amount of money. The church had $20,000.00 in funds that were not doing anything except stagnating in the local bank. To say that they raised a fuss over the whole situation surprised me, but I also understood that many of them had gone through the Great Depression, and parting with money was frightening to them. I tried to show them that a nice-looking church attracts new people and is a way of opening the door for the Gospel. They liked things just the way they were, reminiscing about former pastors and how “wonderful things were.”

I left after a couple of years of dealing with their grip on the past and fear of allowing the present to shatter their comfort zone. That was over twenty years and one hurricane ago (Katrina). I do not know if that church even exists anymore.

Some time ago, I went with a friend to my hometown in southwest Louisiana. He wanted to see the new Baptist Collegiate Ministry building that had been erected across the street from the university we had attended in the late 1970s. I wanted to reconnect with some of my former high school classmates and show that I had not dropped off the face of the earth in the forty years since we graduated and went on with our collective lives. We all enjoyed dinner together and spent time “catching up” with each other. I visited my home church, now in serious decline, with a sanctuary in need of repair and no funds to do anything about it. I looked inside it for a moment and walked away. FBC was soon destroyed by Hurricane Laura. The BCM building and FBC meant nothing to me anymore. My friend wanted to dwell on the “good times” we had as kids, teens, and students. I had moved on (1 Corinthians 13:11).

I often refer to my time overseas as the turning point in my life in terms of maturity and gaining responsibility, etc. I look back on those times with a sense of joy and fulfillment, but I do not want to be “forever 21,” as it were.

After the hurricane had destroyed the church, I was sent a piece of it as a type of “souvenir” about the former days of youth groups, good times, and other lesser adventures. Again, it had come to mean nothing more than a building that had lost all significance to me. I put it away somewhere in my house. I could not and would not relive those days for the sheer fact that I was an overweight, immature young adult whose antics and words proved to some people that I would not amount to anything. I left the USA to live overseas, and aside from my salvation, it was the best thing that had happened to me up to that time.

I do miss the days of kindness and consideration toward one another, respect for differences of opinions, my parents and friends who are no longer here, watching my children grow up, etc. However, time goes on, and we must keep on going forward in the work and plans that the LORD has for us as individuals, families, and believers. We cannot afford to allow ourselves to stagnate in past “glory days.” Billy Joel said it best in his song, “Keeping the Faith”:

“The good old days weren’t all that good, and tomorrow isn’t bad as it seems.”

When it comes to the issue of politics, my generation often longs for the days when Ronald Reagan was president. I liked him and believed him to be the leader that the US needed at that time. What I do not miss is the threat of the Soviet Union, the “Cold War,” and other situations that kept us wondering who may press the button that starts the nuclear missiles coming down on us. I do not want to relive the series of events that led to the election of a fat, lecherous hillbilly as president, his satanic wife, and a vice president with all the charm of a tree stump as leaders of the country just a short decade later.

Even now, the nation cries out for the return of former President Trump and the idea that one great sweep of his hand will restore the nation to its “former glory.” I like him and think he did a respectable job despite all the fracases thrown at him for the four years he was in power. The past is no guarantee that should he be elected again, our downfall as a nation can be restored. Many preachers say that we are under the judgment of God (Romans 1:18-32; 3:10-18) and that our sins have caused it to occur. This is the best description of our current situation. Our addiction to patriotic nostalgia will not stop what God has wrought unless we repent (2 Chronicles 7:14). A lot of people talk about it, but I see very few put it into action.

Nostalgia in the Scriptures: Numbers 11:5

Israel wanted to return to Egypt – liberated from 400-plus years in bondage and slavery to them. They forgot that Pharoah had loaded them down with bondage and bitterness and that he had decreed the death of their firstborn. They had witnessed the miracles God had done in Egypt through Moses; they had seen the Red Sea part for them; they were being fed in the wilderness by God via the manna. They would come to the border of the Promised Land only to turn away in disbelief and fear; banished to forty years of wandering until the “griping generation” died off – their stomachs were luring them back to the past that they tended to forget, and the certainty of death should they have returned. Their nostalgia had given them a lack of faith, a time of self-pity, and certain punishment from God for their rebellion.

Nostalgia Example No. 2 -The Condition of Israel in the Days of Jesus

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), given by the Lord Jesus to His disciples shortly before His illegal arrest, trial, and crucifixion, was an eye-opening declaration that there would be no liberation from Rome and the restoration of the nation as expected. Many had believed that Jesus was the political Messiah who would overthrow the forces of Caesar. His miracles and other demonstrations of power convinced most of the Jews that He could use them to heal bodies and raise people from the dead, which would assist Him in His victory over the Romans and their expulsion from the Promised Land. When He declared that His work was to deliver people from sin (Isaiah 53:4-6) and not from a hated foe, the Gospels state that the nation turned against Him and called for His death.

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of not just the temple but the entirety of Judea happened in AD 70 when the forces of Rome destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple, and killed 1,000,000 citizens (about the population of Delaware) of Judea. Israel’s longing to be a great kingdom on earth with Jesus as the Davidic conquering ruler was shattered and destroyed. Israel’s nostalgia, bordering on violence, had cost them everything.

Israel was not to be reborn as a nation until May 14, 1948. This event started the prophetic clock ticking that will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ to earth, Israel as the center of the new earth, and the new Jerusalem to be the eternal capital. There will be no need nor use for any nostalgic memories. Tears and sorrow will be wiped away; we will have new bodies free from the bondage of sin, death, sickness, and all that burdens us in this present world.

I do not want to relive the days when I was spiritually lost (Romans 3:23, 5:6-11; 6:23). I do not want to relive the time before I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I do not want to relive family and personal tragedies anymore. I do not want to relive wasted time and opportunities that cannot be recaptured or renewed. I refuse to dwell upon the memories of the things I did in my past, but instead keep my eyes focused on what is ahead (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 19:11-21, 20:15, 21:1-7). Nostalgia keeps people from progressing and maturing spiritually.

Do you live like that? Please stop it and instead, look up, be watchful, for our redemption draws near (Lule 21:28).