You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. – Jeremiah 32:20-21 ESV
Looking back can be little more than a nostalgic and idealistic longing for the way things used to be, but it can also be a valuable discipline that provides us with perspective. It was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” His was a somewhat negative outlook, but it reflects the truth that occasional reflection on the past has value for the future. There are lessons to be learned. There are examples to emulate and mistakes to avoid. The old saying that hindsight is 20/20 simply reminds us that the validity or stupidity of a decision is much more clear when looking back than when standing with the choice in front of you. There is value in reflection. We can gain so much insight when we take the time to examine the past and see where we have been. George Bernard Shaw put it this way: “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.”
In his prayer, Jeremiah takes some time to look back. But he is far from nostalgic. He isn’t longing for the good old days. He is reminding himself of the greatness of God. As he stands on the edge of the unknown, with the fall of Jerusalem looming in the future, he reflects on the one things he can count on: God. God had been a constant in the life of Israel for generations. He is the one who had done signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, forcing the pharaoh to release the Israelites after more than 400 years in captivity. But God’s miracles hadn’t ceased there. He had continued to display His power on behalf of the people of God all the way up until that moment in time. God had a reputation for doing great things. But a lot of people had forgotten. They had ceased to remember the past. They were caught up in the present and living with a fear of the future. Overwhelmed with the insecurity of their circumstances, they had either forgotten all about God or had chosen to ignore Him. But Jeremiah was counting on God. He was looking back and reminding himself of just how powerful and personal his God was. This was not the first time the people of Israel had found themselves in a tough spot. They had faced difficult circumstances before, and God had always showed up and come through for them before. Jeremiah knew God was about to bring judgment on the nation of Judah for its stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. The future didn’t look bright. But in looking back, Jeremiah was able to remind himself of the faithfulness, love, power, and capacity for deliverance of his God.
When we learn to look back, we discover the immutability of God. He is unchanging. He is consistent and highly dependable. You can always rely on Him to act in the same way, day in and day out. He is the same today as He was in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, and Peter. The difficulties we face are no greater than the ones faced by the people of God in the Old Testament or the believers in the early church. In fact, in so many ways, we have it far easier. And yet, we find ourselves panicking, doubting, worrying, and wondering if our God can handle our problems. We question whether He is strong enough to deliver us from our circumstances. Jeremiah would encourage us to look back. He would remind us that our fear of the future is best faced with a healthy dose of the past. We may not know what God is going to do, but we can remember what He has already done. We can’t always know what tomorrow holds, but we can know that it’s in good hands because God is in control. He always has been. He always will be. He is consistently, completely reliable. We can count on Him. So when we face the unknown, we simply need to turn around and take a look in the rear view mirror and see where we’ve been and how God has been there with us all along the way. His presence is sometimes best seen in retrospect. His love for us ofter becomes more clear to us upon reflection. Looking back can be a healthy exercise for the child of God. Remembering what He has done can go a long way in helping us trust Him for what He is doing to do. There is value in reflection.