What Are We Here For? Part 3 – Don’t Look Back, Look Forward

By Ps Ay Nee Ng

Do you remember Lot’s wife? Why is there such significance to her? Is it what she did that is important to consider as we approach the End Time? There is this saying: “The only time you should look back, is to see how far you’ve come”.

Nostalgia never seems to go out of style. We all have this sense of nostalgia when things are not quite rosy in our lives or when we have made it in life. When the Israelites left Egypt and were on the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, they started complaining, disgruntled, and felt the nostalgia for Egypt. Strange, isn’t it? Why so nostalgic for times when they were miserable slaves in Egypt?

Being free and responsible for ourselves is scary and risky because we are venturing into the unknown.  When things go wrong, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves. When times are tough and we don’t have enough to eat or drink, nobody will come and rescue us. We have to hustle and struggle for ourselves and work hard to satisfy our wants and needs. It is tough.

Slavery is easy as well as hard. So is freedom.

Being slaves we just obey orders and do what we are told to do. It’s so much easier to let others take care of us.

Psychologically and spiritually, the story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt is the story of us leaving behind our childhood of dependence on others and entering into adulthood, ruling our own lives and being responsible for our own actions. The learning curve of being interdependent and not independent is difficult.

When that happens, we tend to run away and go back to a sort of safe place, the past, and dwell on it. However, in abdicating our freedom and self-responsibility, we lose that humanity and self-worth. We become someone else’s property, to be used or abused at their whim and fancy.

Remember the days when we were young and free. It is nice to reminisce the good old days but, reminisce all you want, in the end we must move on. Even progress won’t wait for us to take our time to sort things out.

Remember our twenties and thirties when we were less responsible and carefree days at college and university. During our forties and fifties, we yearn for our years of young adulthood before the heavy burdens of work, family and other responsibilities weighed down on our shoulders. When we are on our sixties and seventies, we pine for the decades when the adventures and achievements of life lay ahead of us instead of behind us. We are slowing down. Old war buddies mourn the era when the men were brave, the women were strong, and the issues were clear.

Yes, it is good to reminisce the past. But we were never meant to live there. Our past brought us to the present. But the present is moving toward the future and progress, not toward the past. Our eyes are placed in the front of our head to focus on things ahead, not in the back. We humans are designed to look forwards, not backwards.

So what are we here for? We are here and now for eternal purpose and a universal purpose! We are to move forward by first dealing with our past and letting it go. We must not allow our past, if it is a bad one, to have the power to define our future. Let God define your present and future.

If we look back, there are consequences. The most powerful evidence is Lot’s wife, who allowed the power of her past define her future. When you hear her story, remember these sayings:

“When your past calls, don’t answer. It has nothing new to say!”

“Your best teacher is your last mistake!”

“Sometimes when things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.”

The Story of Lot’s Wife
Have you ever wondered why she was never given a name but just referred as Lot’s wife? Maybe she wasn’t significant enough to be given a name but her actions will lend her a voice today.

In the Bible, Lot’s wife is a figure first mentioned in Genesis 19. She became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom. She is called “Ado” or “Edith” in some Jewish traditions but is not named in the Bible.

She lived in Sodom, a city which today we refer as “sin city”, embroiled in avarice, greed, immorality, and abhorrent behaviour. God was displeased and told Abraham that the only foreseeable solution was to destroy the whole place. Abraham, after much pleading and bargaining with the hope of saving as many good and righteous people as he could, reached to an agreement with God. If 10 righteous people were found in there, God would spare the place; yet, there weren’t 10. Thus, angels were sent to warn Lot of the impending doom and to compel him and his family to leave immediately.

Read Genesis 19:12-29.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19 Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

29 So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

It’s hard to understand divine retribution and harder still to incorporate it into our desire for a God of grace and mercy. In this story, we will lend a voice to Lot’s wife and view her actions when she was told to not look back.

We may love her, despise her, or relate to her for being “human”, but being “human” over obeying our Lord is a hefty price. Her actions paid a solemn price of no return to the present. Lot’s wife was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been, but she looked back. Picture this: if she had been in front of Lot, most probably Lot would have reminded her not to look back but move forward. But that wasn’t the case. Even in moving out, she was the last to heed the angels’ warnings. The lingering of a decadent society enwrapped her world that she could not let go.

Do we know a life better then what the world can give? Is our salvation intact? Have we experienced a tangible touch from God that we can let go of the past?

Obviously, Lot’s wife had never experienced God. Even Lot showed a shallow understanding and faith in God when he lingered awhile before the angels gripped him and family out of Sodom. Don’t we all need that reminder or gentle, loving hands that will not let us go? The daughters did not falter because Lot had a hand on them. Because of Lot’s wife had strong ties with her past; she couldn’t let go. She disobeyed and was turn into a pillar of salt.

Don’t look back! Nostalgia can touch anyone of us. In fact, it does make sense, especially if you think about it, the suddenness to leave everything behind could hit anyone of us and it hit her. She was leaving behind all she had known: her home, her friends, and probably a good life because we know that Lot prospered. Who could do such a thing without a backwards glance, without remorse, without a turn in remembrance and grief toward all he or she was now forced to let go suddenly and forget?

“The only time you should look back, is to see how far you’ve come”.

Whether our past is good or bad, it is understandable and wise, to honour our past and pay close attention to all that has gone before and have a good closure. We do well to look back at the story that is uniquely and powerfully our own, at where we have come from and who we have become. But let’s be very wary as that very same reflection on the past can easily become the tendency and temptation that keep us from moving forward.

Not like Lot’s Wife
What she did wrong by looking back calls us to set our sights on all that is ahead and to look toward the new lands we have been promised. Lot’s wife must have known how desperate leaving Sodom was and how desperate the angels were to get them out because they were leading them out as they hold their hands, yet she chose to ignore and turn to look back.

Her voice now tells us: “Don’t look back. Set your eyes toward the future.” It also reminds us to cling tightly to the hand of the angels who know the abundant life that awaits us when we have the courage to risk, to dare, and to trust and believe in our rescuers. To act is not easy. It is easier said than done.

It is hard to move forward when it means letting go of the past, whether it means patterns and behaviours or pathologies and relationships. We are comfortable with the way things are, even if they are unhealthy and actually keep us from progressing, growing, and becoming stronger and healthier. It is seemingly far less disruptive to just do what we have always done (while hoping for different results) than being brave and bold to work towards changing, leaving the past, turning away, and not turning back.

 Honest Reflection

The story of Lot’s wife calls us to an honest reflection, to the brutal truth about where we currently live (the past or the present). Then, it asks us to loosen our grip on all that is behind us and grasp tightly onto the hands of any and all the divine messengers who compel us to move ahead. It calls us to more: to a sustained, powerful, and ongoing story. The beauty is that we have divine help. We are on our own and, yet, not alone because God is with us, but we need to cross over, move forward, and stay on course.

  • Hear her voice. Don’t do what she did as you think about hard choices. Don’t look back.
  • Hear her voice. Don’t do what she did as you acknowledge your fears. As you trust an unknown future in exchange for an all-too-familiar and less-than-healthy past, don’t look back.
  • Hear her voice. Don’t do what she did when you lean toward compromise over challenge, passivity over proactivity, and default over declaration. Don’t look back.
  • Hear her voice. Don’t do what she did when you need to be reminded that you are not alone.

It is significant that the Bible mentions that Lot’s wife was looking back at the destruction behind her when she turned into a pillar of salt. It leaves a message to obey first and do not cling to our past and the world. When we are leaving behind destructive situations or evil ways of living, we must keep our focus on moving forward.

If we look back to our old life with curiosity or longing for the life and the people we are leaving, it’s much easier to slip right back into the old patterns, the old addictions, and the old associations with people who dragged us down. We need to make a clean break of our past.