Don’t Look Back

Ah, September. The air is growing crisp (well, as crisp as it gets in southern New Mexico). Children are heading back to school. Football stadiums are filling. Local restaurants are packed with friends and neighbors enjoying the fruits of fall.

Except none of that is happening. Because it’s 2020. The year that everything just…wasn’t.

And I absolutely hate it.

I hate that I can’t visit my friends. I hate that my church has to limit the number of people inside. I hate that there are markers inside the grocery store telling me which way to go down an aisle and where to stand. I hate that my children have to wear masks to school and can’t just run and jump and play like kids. I hate words like “live streaming” and “virtual.”

Most of all, I hate the term new normal. I just want normal.

Fall is my favorite time of year, but now the only thing I feel is nostalgic and depressed.

And a little bit more sympathy for Lot’s wife.

I’m sure you know the story. Abraham’s nephew Lot chose to pitch his tents and settle down near the city of Sodom, a town renown for its wickedness. In Genesis 19, two angels arrive to warn Lot of Sodom’s impending judgment and destruction:

“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, 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…When he [Lot] 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.” —(Genesis 19:12-13, 16)

Isn’t that so very much like us? Lot hesitated. Here was a messenger of God, an instrument of His holy judgment, standing before him, telling him to flee the coming wrath…and Lot hesitated. I make light of it now, but how many times have I “hesitated” when God told me to do something? Or, even worse, not done it at all?

Ouch.

Lot and his daughters were practically dragged from the city, mere moments before its destruction. Behind them, “the Lord rained down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah…he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities…” (Genesis 19:23-25). And yet, despite specific instructions not to look back (19:17) we are faced with an unfortunate “but”:

But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26)

We don’t know much about Lot’s wife. In fact, she’s not even named in the Bible. It’s likely she was a Sodomite, but we don’t know for sure. The only thing we really know is that she was there when the angels delivered their warning; she knew, not only of God’s coming wrath, but also of the explicit command not to look back.

And yet she did it anyway. One little verse, one small action became the defining moment of her life and her legacy. Lot’s wife looked back.

So now the question becomes why? Why would a woman who had come face-to-face with a messenger of the Lord choose disobedience?

Why do we?

I think if we’re being honest, part of the reason is unbelief. Remember that Lot’s wife was a foreigner; although married to descendant of Abraham, she herself was not, nor was she an adherent to Abraham’s God. It’s possible that Lot had tried to teach her and convert her, but we don’t know for sure. Part of her looking back could have come from a question of wondering if this God of her husband’s was really going to do what He said He was going to do. Was the city she and her family had lived in all this time–perhaps the city in which she was raised–really wicked enough in the eyes of this God to cause Him to destroy it? And–more importantly– was He big enough, powerful enough, to do it?

But I also think there was more to it, a side of this story I didn’t really think about until COVID-19 shattered our norms and upended our structure. I think perhaps Lot’s wife looked back out of longing.

I don’t like change, and I don’t think I’m the only one. We as human beings naturally crave comfort and stability. We yearn for routine and thrive in the familiar. COVID-19 has taken all of the things you and I usually use as constants in our lives–all of those normal, everyday things that we took for granted–and uprooted them.

And I have spent a lot of time reminiscing about the way things used to be, longing for a return to normal. In other words, I’ve spend a lot of time looking back.

Lot’s wife was being forced from the only home she’d ever known, away from members of her family, her friends, the streets she’d always walked and the shops she’d always visited, and being thrust into the wilderness with the knowledge that she wasn’t just leaving all those things behind–all those people and places were being doomed for destruction. She was being forced into a place she didn’t recognize, prepped for a future she didn’t understand, and being asked to trust a God she didn’t know.

In short, she was living in 2020 before we did.

But for all the fear and uncertainty, heartache and doubt, Lot’s wife was asked to make a decision. And its the same decision we are being asked to make now.

Will you trust God enough to move forward? Or will you continue to look back?

The real tragedy about Lot’s wife isn’t just that she was turned into a pillar of salt. It’s that she was turned to pillar of salt at the very moment in which God was attempting to lead her to freedom, not just physically but spiritually, too. His power was on full display in the destruction of Sodom but so was His mercy in sparing her life and the lives of her husband and daughters. It is in times of greatest peril and harshest circumstances that God’s love becomes the most apparent, and the very thing He chose to dole out destruction upon the wickedness of Sodom could have been the same thing He used to open Lot’s wife’s heart and plant seeds of faith which could have changed the lives of so many around her.

But, instead, she looked back.

Though God may not be raining down burning sulphur upon our cities, there is no doubt that our world is changed. Longing or reminiscing about the past is not bad or sinful, but we must be careful not to become so fixated on the way things were that we miss the new things God is doing. Although I may not like all the changes we as a society have had to implement during this time of crisis, these adjustments may be the very things that God is using to transform me.

If I let Him.

Much like Lot’s wife, I have a choice: will I choose to trust God, allowing Him to lead me into the unknown, where unfamiliar terrain and uncomfortable circumstances will grow me into the person He wants me to be? Or I will keep looking back, living in the past, allowing bitterness to take root over the changes I don’t understand and never wanted to make, hardening my heart against anything He may be trying to say or do in my life?

Salt of the earth or a pillar of salt?

The choice is ours.

Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

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