There is a conflict between the need to look back and the urging to only look forward. On one side Paul says “I forget what is behind and press on toward the goal.” On the other side he says we need to remember who we used to be and how we used to live so we can avoid falling back into past actions and attitudes. Jesus said you can’t plow a straight line looking backward. We also are told to look back so we might learn to make better choices.
Okay, which is it? Forget the past or remember the past? Look forward or look back?
How about both? We are to give primary concentration and effort into looking forward with an occasional glance in the rearview mirror. It’s like driving. You don’t drive without looking through the windshield. But an occasional glance behind let’s you know what’s coming up from the back.
Life needs to be lived the same way. We have to keep our focus forward, where we’re going, but we need to remember where we’ve been and the traps we’ve fallen into in the past, things that tripped us up, patterns that distracted us, failures from which we were supposed to learn life lessons.
It’s called perspective. Knowing where I’ve been helps me know where I’m going. Knowing where I’m going keeps me from getting detoured into unproductive side-journeys and unexpected potholes.
If I do look back it needs to be in quick glances, not intense, lingering looks. Like texting while driving—which of course no one does. If I look back too much, I can almost guarantee a crash. That stuff’s over, it’s had its day, we’ve moved on. God has no grace for yesterday (or tomorrow, actually), only grace for today and the promise of grace tomorrow. It’s like manna—you only get today’s supply.
If I go back, I’m on my own. If I go forward, God is with me. He is a present tense God not a past tense God.
So we live today leaning toward tomorrow, all the while believing the promise He’ll be with us.