Looking backwards with rose coloured glasses.

Karlene and I went with our youngest son Kyle and his wife Jess on the first anniversary of their marriage for a road trip through the North Island last week. Jess had not been to the North Island before other than to fly through Auckland, so Kyle wanted to show her the great places that he remembered: the town he was born in (Tokoroa), the place of his youth (Tauranga) and great places visited (the Auckland Zoo and the hot pools in Rotorua and Tauranga and Mt Maunganui).

Why is it that we have great memories of places but when we return they are not as we recall?

Sort of like the Whittakers ad about the size of the peanut slabs in our youth. They were always bigger and better than now.

Why is it that we remember only the good times and not the other bits?

Why is when we go and visit friends in those places that we find that we have so little in common with them anymore, and after a bit of banter about “remember when”, we find that they and we have new interests and experiences that we do not connect with?  Our new memories are not shared memories.

I believe it is because in our mind, place and time are the same.  We remember a place at a particular time in history. We remember a snapshot of a time which has gone.

We are not alone in those thoughts.

Let’s go back to the time of the Exodus.

For over 430 years the Israelites lived in Egypt, initially as guests of the Pharaoh but for most of the latter part as slaves to the Pharaoh.

God sent Moses to set his people free and we know the story of Pharaoh refusing that. We remember God exacting a series of plagues on the nation in order to get him to release them.

After God exacted the last plague, when he killed the first born of all people and animals in Egypt (except the Israelites whose houses were passed over by the angel of death), Pharaoh relented and told them to go.

Not only were they released from slavery and sent out of the country, they also left with all their livestock and they left with gifts of gold from the Egyptians.

Exodus 12:37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds

Exodus 12:35-36 they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked.

Yet it did not take these recently freed and blessed former slaves long to moan about their situation and yearn for the old life.

They had not even left the territory of Egypt when fear and distrust of the faithfulness and intent of God struck, and they yearned for the old life.

Exodus 14:10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.

At this stage they remembered their old life of servitude (a few weeks earlier) but wanted that life rather than trusting God for the new life of uncertainty that he promised.

God then saves them from Pharaoh who had changed his mind, perhaps because he realized how much work those slaves had been doing; God allowed them to escape from the pursuing army by opening the Red Sea, letting them through but drowning the Egyptian army. We read about that in Exodus 14.

The Israelites changed tack and praised God for their deliverance and composed a song to sing about that in Exodus 15:13ff, and God continued to bless them with the promise that they would not incur the same diseases that he inflicted the Egyptians with – Exodus 15:26

26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Yet barely a few verses later they are pining for the return to Egypt. Now they start forgettingh the hardship of their past life and were starting to be selective in their memories.

Exodus 16:2-3

The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, … on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the place where they were moaning against God was known as the wilderness of Sin, because that is exactly what they were doing. Sinning against God!

In their mind suddenly, their life in Egypt was remembered as a Club Med holiday where they lay around gorging themselves with quality food. Not a thought about their hardship.

They forgot God’s provision that they received:  Not only being able to take their livestock and their neighbours gold with them, but also God’s provision for them in the desert.

God provided manna from heaven every day to fill their tummies.

Exodus 16:35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

They selectively remembered their former life with relish.

Yet again in chapter 17, they moaned and yearned for their old life (17:3)

Exodus 17:2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

Yet 2 years later they are still moaning the same tune:

Numbers 1:4 the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” [1]

By this time their rose coloured glasses that remembered only the good times of the past was well entrenched and they even perhaps embellished just how good it actually had been.

They forgot their existence of slavery, making bricks from mud and straw. They forgot the cruel overseers that beat them (Exodus 3:9 and 5:16)

They forgot that Pharaoh had ordered the death of all new born male Hebrew children.

They remembered the abundance of veges instead.

Their looking back showed distrust of the God who was leading them into a new and wonderful life

Deuteronomy 1:26 [Moses said] You rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27 you grumbled in your tents and said, “It is because the Lord hates us that he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where are we headed? Our kindred have made our hearts melt by reporting, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified up to heaven! We actually saw there the offspring of the Anakim!’ ” 29 I said to you, “Have no dread or fear of them. 30 The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place. 32 But in spite of this, you have no trust in the Lord your God, 33 who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.”

The experience of the Israelites in the desert is our experience too. We too sometimes look back with longing to a place in the past – actually what we are longing for is that snapshot of a place in our past.

We like the Israelites have photoshopped our memories so that we only remember the good.

The pain and blemishes and scars and hurts of our former life are photoshopped away.

We forget the problems of the past, we forget the hardship of our lives when we did not know God.

The truth is that God is leading us to better and greater life and we need to take off our rose-tinted glasses about the past.

2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Bruce Springsteen sang a song called Glory Days

Glory days, glory days
Now I think I'm going down to the well tonight
and I'm going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don't sit around thinking about it but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days

I wonder if Abraham spent time thinking back to his glory days in the land of Ur, or whether he was focused on the promises of God that he would possess the land which God had set aside for him.

I wonder as Moses herded his father in laws sheep in the desert whether he was nostalgic about his time living in the palaces of the Pharaoh.

It is so easy when things are not going the way we think they should that we take up those glasses again and reflect about the glory days – that photoshopped image of what life used to be like.

Instead we should focus on where God is taking us.

Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

The past is a good thing to remember but we cannot recapture it. It no longer exists.

Move on with God into the life he has planned for you.






[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Nu 11:4–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.