Look not behind
It’s the last day of the year. A time to look ahead to the new year. I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, so you won’t get that talk. I can’t think of anything to start or fix just because of a date on the calendar. I try to fix things as a I see them. However, I like beginning again. Kicking off a new project at work is always exciting. Every new day is a chance to start again. Every new week we can take the sacrament, which gives us a chance to start over and try again. The plan of happiness is the ultimate do-over. The gospel of Jesus is about forgiveness and being born again. The purpose is to cleanse people and allow us to return to our Father. It is a beautiful message that we can take advantage of daily or strive to engage with new hope at the new year. The theme we were given was “Look not behind” This is a reference from Genesis 19 and the story of Lot’s escape.
Story of Lot
The city that Lot lived in was evil and was going to be destroyed. God’s tolerance of that sinful place was over. After some negotiation Lot’s family was going to be saved, but given instructions not to look back. As they were leaving, Lot’s wife couldn’t resist and so she didn’t make it.
When I hear a phrase like “don’t look back” or “look not behind thee” I think of the opposite, about things that we should look back to. There are some good things to look back to in our minds. There are lessons to be learned in the past. So the commandment requires some context.
What do we look back for?
1. the scriptures - they tell us how people had faith in the past
2. genealogy - we learn about our family and maybe how they overcame problems
3. history - we have to learn from the past
So what did Lot’s wife do wrong? What did she do that was different? What do we not look back for?
1. past sin - we must forgive and forget
2. lost possessions - we can’t take it with us
3. missed opportunities - we make new ones
I think this is the lesson of Lot’s wife. She had some attachment to the city of sin. Whatever it was, she wasn’t prepared to let it go. We look for the good and not the bad to put it simply. As Elder Holland put it, “The past is to be learned from, but not lived in.“
When we want to start again we have to change our heart and not long for the old sins. The message of the gospel is to go on, to move forward.
So how do we do it? I think it helps to remember what we know about this life. We know that God has a plan of happiness for us. One unique aspect of latter day saint doctrine is that we know that we lived with our Father in Heaven before we were born. Although not entirely alone in the world in this belief, this is an idea that sets latter day saints apart and gives us a different perspective. Do you believe you were happy with God in heaven? Do you expect you will be happy when you return? Then why leave? What have gotten ourselves into? We believe that in order to be more like our Father and to experience the joy that he does that we had to come to earth. To be miserable? No, “Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy”. He has a plan for us. He has a plan for each of our lives and He had a plan to send a Savior to make it possible for all of us to make it back home.
This life is meant for progression and experience. We have to have to faith in Jesus in order to move forward and forget the sorrows of the past. This life is a test, a time to prove if we will obey, so it is necessarily hard. Everyone fails. If part of life includes failing then we only need to go on and move to the next hurdle.
There are several examples from the scriptures about going and moving forward.
First, Nephi. He said “I will go and do”.
When a woman was caught in sin and brought to Jesus for punishment he paused and wrote on the ground. The crowd wanted to stone her but he defused their anger and suggested they look to their own behavior. Jesus did not punish her. No one was left to condemn her.
John 8:11 And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
To go requires looking forward. The woman would need to look not behind her.
Jesus commanded her to be better.
Remember the story where Jesus was met by ten lepers who appealed to him for relief. Recall one leper came back to give thanks. in Luke chapter 17 verse
14. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
Again, Jesus commanded them to go. The miracle occurred as they went. They certainly didn’t want to dwell in their past environment.
Can people that do terrible things also “go and not look back”? There are several examples from the scriptures. Paul and Alma come to mind, two of the worst that became the best.
Saul was a witness to the execution of Stephen.
in Acts 22:20
20 And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.
Paul was reprimanded for playing on the wrong side. He was stopped in the way by a vision. in verse 10 of the same chapter Paul said
10 And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.
Paul never looked back. He became a great missionary. There is hope for those that are doing wrong. Paul was on the wrong side and became a great preacher.
Alma the Younger rebelled against his father, the leader of the church. He not only didn’t obey but actively sought to drag people away from the truth. An angel came to stop him. The angel said Alma could destroy himself but would not be allowed to destroy others. The Lord would take him out first. Alma had to learn the painful lesson and then taught it to his sons later. Alma shared the painful lessons of his past but did not linger in them or look back on those day with fondness. It terrified him. He didn’t have an attachment like Lot’s wife. The sweetness of the forgiveness outweighed it all.
A little long but so clear on this point that I think it is worth it.
17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
That exquisite joy is certainly the condition that all us will experience when are all in the celestial kingdom together. I believe we can enjoy that healing now. More often than New Year, we can start over and be reborn, as Alma says. The price of sin, sorrow, pain and illness has already been paid by Jesus and he only waits for us to follow him.
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
When we are healed we don’t look back. The Healer’s hand removes all wounds. I think recollections of all our mortal troubles will be nothing after we are resurrected.
For me, when I think of the times when I was in despair it is when I think of only the problem in front of me and can’t see anything else. It is like a stubbed toe that consumes all of my thought with throbbing pain. On days when I am open minded and thinking of eternal goals then most problems seem much smaller. When the spirit of the Lord came to teach Nephi he was taken into a high mountain. Mountains are a symbol of temples. They are a high place where our view is changed and we can taught holy things and comprehend them. We have a chance to look out and see things as they are, avoiding the blinders of the world and its problems. I require a frequent reset in this regard so a trip to the Gilbert temple is a good way to get it. This is another way of looking forward and not looking back.
Another way of looking forward and not looking back is to focus on others. Many times when we are looking back, it is looking at ourselves and our problems. If we seek to help others and to offer them relief and assistance then we are looking forward and forget ourselves and our own problems. Looking forward gives us a much larger perspective and we can see our proper place in God’s plan for us.
Another way to look forward is to allow others to change. We have to forgive them. We can’t hold grudges and be looking forward in faith. We want to change and we have to allow that in others. Everyone thinks they are wiser now than were 5 years ago. Sometimes we remember people as they were years ago. As Elder Holland said “Forget. And when it comes to mind again, forget it again.”
We have to allow people to be better.
Showing faith and having perspective are all ways of looking forward. I think it shows the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having faith in him means looking forward. We allows his love to work in our lives and remember him always. We have faith in his ability to make things better every time we are willing to start over.