Recently, for its 25th anniversary, my favorite movie trilogy of all time was re-released: Back to the Future. And you Star Wars purists and Karate Kid sentimentals can spare me the hate mail :), Back to the Future trumps them all. The original was the top grossing film of 1985. The second, although many “real critics” found it excessively layered and complicated, I thought was as clever of a movie as I’ve ever seen. The accuracy of the assumptions that, in 1989, the movie made about the near future were extraordinary (check out 11 Things \”Back to the Future II\” Got Right). The third film, set in the Old West, was my least favorite of the three, but still incredibly entertaining.
I’ve always found the concept of time travel to be fascinating, so this idea for a movie, paired with a witty script and a brilliant assessment of the implications of time travel was right up my alley. In the second movie, when Doc Emmett Brown calculates what it will mean for Jennifer, the girlfriend of Marty McFly (main character played by Michael J. Fox), to meet her future self, he says, “I foresee two possibilities. One: coming face-to-face with herself 30 years older would put her into shock and she’d simply pass out. Or, two: the encounter could create a time paradox, the result of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the entire universe! Granted that’s a worst case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localized, limited to merely our own galaxy.” To this, Marty replies, “Well, that’s a relief.”
Moments like this turned me into a pretty passionate movie fan. I enjoyed the Back to the Future trilogy so much that I could tell you where I was, who I was with, time of day, etc. when I watched these films. And so, somewhat ironically, yes, I occasionally wish that I could go back and watch these movies for the first time all over again. In fact, there are many things about the late 1980s (the time these movies were made) that left an indelible mark on me, and this sometimes leaves me longing for that period in my life.
Many people have times in their lives that they’d like to relive. Many also have times they’d like to forget about. Neither is possible though, so attempting to live as though it is possible will invariably lead people into emotional complications, because both involve living in regret now – regretting mistakes you’ve made in the past or regretting the fact that right now you’re not in the time period that you miss. BOTH waste this period of life.
Christians who live in regret of mistakes they’ve made are currently making some fundamental mistakes about their God and his will for their lives. First, God has let your sins go. If God no longer holds your guilt against you, you have no right to feel guilty anymore. Time to start living like you believe that. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:112). Second, what makes you think you’re capable of such mistakes that God can’t make up for them, that your negative boo boos are too problematic for God to solve and straighten out, that you can scramble the pieces of a puzzle so greatly that God can’t put it together? Judas Iscariot had the same problem. And what did Jesus do? He took his own betrayal and turned it into salvation for the world. Now, this certainly does not mean that our sins from the past are “no big deal.” What it does mean is that a victorious Christ has overcome our mistakes and can even use them to bring good for his kingdom (Romans 8:28). Time is better spent relishing this fact than wishing things had been different.
Now, for those of you who are caught “living in the past” or “longing for the past,” please see the unscriptural nature of this as well. A Christian always operates with the optimistic understanding that their future is better than their past. If, linearly speaking, heaven is in front of me, so are my best days.
So, you desire the carefree days of childhood? In heaven, a land without sin, tears and sadness are not even an option (Revelation 21:4). Painful tears in childhood are indeed an option. Heaven wins hands down.
So, you desire the relational excitement of the teen years (if there really is anyone out there who truly wants to be a teenager again)? In heaven, every relationship will have perfect harmony. Every relationship will, by necessity of sinlessness, be better than what it is on earth.
So, you desire the days of having all the kids back in the house? In heaven, the intimacy of connection to biological family becomes the intimacy of connection to spiritual family. In Romans 4, the Apostle Paul talks about the concept of spiritual family ahead of biological family. In heaven, spiritual family will truly be closer than biological family on earth, and in heaven, family will not go off to college or start their own family.
So, you desire the days when your body would actually do what you told it to do, whereas now it seems to continually let you down? In heaven, you will run again. No wheelchair. No walker. We don’t know exactly what our resurrected bodies will be like come Judgment Day, but the Apostle Paul gives us an awesome image in 1 Corinthians 15. He says that right now, our bodies are like seeds. When we die, we are buried (planted) in the earth. When Christ returns, we rise (bloom) to full glorious potential. The seed becomes the flower. You can’t see in a tiny little seed the future romance and beauty of, say, a rose. You’ve never lived like a rose before. It’s still coming.
“But it is just as the Scriptures say,’What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!'” (1 Corinthians 2:9 CEV) I wish you knew how good your future looks. Going back to a time in your past now would only take you further away from the incredible things God has prepared for you.
There’s nothing wrong with looking back fondly on the various blessings that God has given you in the past. This is certainly important. There’s nothing wrong with learning from your past mistakes. This is important too. But, while in the present, Christians live for the future. The Apostle Paul was certainly looking forward to the future. He knew it was better. While understanding the importance of working hard at the opportunities that God had put in front of him in the present, he said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” (Philippians 1:23) That perfect life awaits you too. And it will indeed be better than your “best times” or your “fondest memories.”
NOTE: This Sunday in worship, as we celebrate what is historically labeled as “Saints Triumphant” Sunday, we will see how the future of God’s people will bring their separation from sorrow. We hope you can join us!