January 2012: Hindsight and foresight

It’s always easy to tell people what they should have done, after the event. We all know better than politicians, our bosses, our parents, and so on. Hindsight gives us a perspective that allows this - we can see more of what was going on, and why, than was possible at the time.

Hindsight lets us observe stages in our lives - for example, when we were so keen on a certain person, but later realised we were wasting our time; or when we realised that the topic we hated at school is now incredibly important to what we do, and we are actually grateful for it; or when we realised that kicking the car isn’t going to make fix the car when it breaks down, but rather let our emotions out, and so help us get to a rational frame of mind about what to do next.

We can also use hindsight to distinguish similar stages in the development of civilisation. The progression from nomadic tribal society to states, military empires, and eventually to willing federation is one example. The way we consider ‘us’ and ‘them’ is another: my clan versus the rest; those who worship the same god versus the rest; those who live in one area against those who don’t; those who hold ideals of democracy compared to those who don’t; and so it goes on.

People often criticise the presentation of God in the Old Testament as being bloodthirsty and cruel. Given the state of human advancement at the times described, it turns out that much of it is limited by the worldview of the people at the time. We can only describe what we can understand, and though I believe the writers of the Bible were inspired, I don’t think they were dictated to word for word. They could only write from their own understanding, and society then was often bloodthirsty and cruel. Nevertheless, there are clear markers of progress, such as the ending of human sacrifice which lies behind the story of Jacob and Isaac, and the limitation of escalating revenge that is implicit in the principle of taking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The stages of development are there in the Old Testament, and when Jesus came talking about a God of love, he was calling the people to progress in their understanding of God - and us.

There have been times in my life when my understanding of Jesus’ message, and of Paul’s teaching too, has shifted gear. Sometimes it came from teaching in church or at theological college; at other times it came from something I read, or an insight given when reflecting on a passage. But in each case, I had a choice: to explore the new, or stick with the old. Often, it is scary to explore the new: there is a risk of upsetting the applecart. But this is when foresight is needed, not hindsight; discernment, not prejudice. Sometimes I stuck with the old, sometimes I explored further. God is patient, and waited for me, or welcomed me. It is always a challenge to go further on the Way of Christ, and a delight.

Hindsight, or foresight? Which do you prefer? Dare you test your understanding of the universe, seen and unseen? There is exploration to be done...

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.