When nostalgia doesn’t deliver

January 17, 2019

Evoking a sense of nostalgia is an integral part of Disney’s filmmaking strategy. We see it in recent films like the Star Wars franchise, Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins Returns. This brilliant strategy involves crafting movies that both mirror the storylines of the originals and stand on their own for a newer generation.

Nostalgia is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” It has the unique ability to carry a person to the past like nothing else. In essence, nostalgia brings what is familiar to the forefront of a person’s heart.

When appropriated correctly, nostalgia can powerfully connect generations of people to a greater, common good. But if mishandled, nostalgia can take a darker, more sinister path.

Consider that after the Lord delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian captivity, God was teaching them to trust Him by miraculously providing for their needs. The Israelites were set to take hold of all God had promised until they started longing wistfully for many of the foods they enjoyed in Egypt.

However, while in Egypt, the Israelites were slaves. But the uncertainty of the future led them to long for the familiar. Nostalgia had blinded them to the full truth of their past, and they began to weep over all they had lost, which did not please the Lord.

God never calls His people to nostalgia. He always calls us to remember His faithfulness. The psalmist declares, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1). The psalmist doesn’t long to return to the past but remembers the Lord’s faithfulness to him in order to step into an uncertain future with hope and confidence.

Nostalgia often leads to despair because it promises something it cannot deliver — a world that never changes and a life that seems simple and comfortable.

There is only one problem — the world is always changing. That’s why the Lord says, “Remember Me” rather than “Remember how it used to be.”

The Bible, in fact, condemns such thinking. When our great hope is in a person rather than a timestamp, our greatest days are always ahead of us. Here’s how some biblical writers speak of Him:

  • The Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).
  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
  • For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed (Malachi 3:6).

And this God who never changes promises always to be with His people and to watch over their comings and goings both now and forevermore.

So instead of looking back to what is familiar for ultimate hope when things get tough, we can always look ahead into what feels uncertain knowing the Lord will meet us and guide us through it, because He has been faithful to us along the way, and He’s already there waiting on us.

Perhaps the Lord has been patiently waiting on your church to make the shift from nostalgia (a longing for the past) to remembrance (a longing for Him). Then He can unleash His people to do a new thing in 2019 for the sake of His great name.


by Josh Reed  
Adult Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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