As I’ve looked back over the years, I’ve gained wisdom, knowledge, and insight in various situations. Going through one hurricane in Florida helped our family and me to learn practical ways that prepared us better for later, when we faced more tropical storms in the following years.
But in the same situation, looking back can also can bring fear, regret, and even panic. When faced with a big hurricane years after the first devastating one — where our house was hit with 14-foot waves, flooding, and high winds that ripped off doors and busted windows — I found that remembering stirred up anxious and dreadful feelings that were almost paralyzing in their effects.
So is hindsight a good or not-so-good thing? Looking closely, I find that the Bible offers practical guidelines on the topic, both pros and cons.
The definition of hindsight could be simplified as “looking back with longing.” There are references in the Bible where hindsight was strongly discouraged and led to a disastrous outcome, such as Lot’s wife. Angels literally instructed Lot, his wife, and their family to not to look back. Yet, his wife did, and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:17-26).
Another biblical example is where Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. According to Scripture, they hadn’t even crossed the Red Sea yet and were already looking back dissatisfied and unhappy, remembering the past as slaves through rose-colored glasses (Exodus 14:11,12).
Both of these biblical examples encourage me to be careful in hindsight, because giving into the lure of it can lead to regret, disappointment, confusion, disillusionment, and worse.
And the issue of hindsight is so important, that Jesus even made sure to discuss it in Luke 9:62, a verse linked to Lot’s wife’s action of “looking back,” referring to the danger of becoming distracted by the past. In it Jesus cautions, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Biblical commentators tend to agree on these words of caveat from Jesus, that as plowing requires concentration with eyes intent on the furrow ahead to be made, it’s important to keep my attention on the future vision or goal that God has called me to reach. This is vitally important because if I decide to take my eyes of what God has called me to do and “look back,” my purpose can be marred the instant I turn away from my goal and look back at something in the past with desire; even if I don’t intend to actually return there.
It seems that looking back is more a heart issue than an action, and brings to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 concerning lust. If I just look back at something with desire and haven’t even actually moved or taken a step towards it, it seems I’ve already sinned.
Additionally, while looking up the definition of hindsight, I also discovered something interesting called a bias to the definition, which in this case, is “the tendency individuals have to view the outcomes of events to be more predictable than they really were.” It seems that after an event, people often unrealistically believe that they knew or could predict the outcome of the event more accurately before it actually happened. However, experiments found that people afterwards often recall their predictions before the event as much stronger than they actually were. Hindsight can give us the unrealistic thought that if we had only done this or that it would have guaranteed a different result.
From all the above references in Scripture, it seems that hindsight is all con. But from experiencing it myself in numerous situations, from as small as, “If only we would have stopped at the gas station before running out of it in 113 degree desert” to as big as “If I hadn’t walked around Disney World at 7-months pregnant, maybe I wouldn’t have had complications?” I’ve learned it’s all about my heart condition when it comes to hindsight.
As with passing up the opportunity to stop at the gas station before going on a new route, hindsight can provide lasting, positive results. As a family, instead of beating ourselves up because of what happened, thinking that if only we had filled up the tank here or there before embarking on the new route we could have avoided the whole situation, we’ve let the past mishap readjust our thinking and offer a new attitude of, “Why not fill up the tank…just in case?” along with, “Just because a Mapquest shortcut shows towns on a desert route, don’t make the trip on a less-than-full tank of gas, or believe towns listed really exist, just because it says so on the map.”
And in the place of choosing to beat myself up for complications with my pregnancy, thinking, “If only I had rested instead of going to Disney World,” while not even knowing that my actions had anything to do with the complications, I can choose to trust God — knowing that God knew before it occurred how He would walk me through it and bring good results in my life from a not-so-good situation.
How to Choose
Hebrews 11 gives a number of examples of individuals in the Bible who did not give up, who lived by faith and did not let past challenges keep them from going forward. It describes the difficulties they experienced, yet how they endured through them. And the first verse kicks off the theme of the entire chapter by saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
It seems that like many things in life, hindsight is a heart issue. Looking back with desire to change the past only leads to tormenting thoughts and regretful aches; but remembering what happened with a knowing that I can make different choices in the future, leads to changed ways, and renewed thoughts and actions.
And when it comes to hindsight, rather than giving in to the cons it offers, I can choose the pros that are stated in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
In life when faced with situations that seem overwhelming, I’m learning to meditate on what is asserted in both Genesis 18:14 and Jeremiah 32:27, “Is anything too difficult for God?”