The power of nostalgia

What does nostalgia say about us and about the gospel?

The power of nostalgia
“But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” (Psalm 106:13)

While watching a film recently, I was struck by the presence of nostalgia in so many films and TV shows. The film in question was the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Don’t worry if that film isn’t to your taste, or if you haven’t seen it or the films that came before it. You can easily replace that movie with another that you might have seen, or a TV show you might have watched.

Without giving any plot spoilers away, the film indulged in a great deal of nostalgia: looking back on a different time with fond memories. For the film I was watching, it was the original Ghostbusters film. That film was released during my childhood (yes, I am that old) and so the many references to 1984 not only brought back memories of the movie, it took me back to when I was a kid. Nostalgia does that to us. It not only evokes another period of time, it often transports us to a time and place where live was easier and simpler.

One definition of nostalgia is a ‘sentimental longing or wistful affection’ for some time in the past. Often this is a past we have experienced, but not always (think of the nostalgia of the Downton Abbey TV shows and films). The word originates from ‘homesickness’. We see something about the way things used to be, and we are homesick for the past.

I’m not against a bit of nostalgia in film and TV. But it can easily creep into our wider mindset, and perhaps our Christian thinking too. Maybe we can feel a certain nostalgia for the past when we were a younger believer, or a time in the past when it was ‘easier’ to be a Christian (if such a time ever existed).

As God’s people, we are called to remember the past, but not be nostalgia for it. Many places in the Bible call us to remember and recall God’s amazing acts (for example, Deuteronomy 32:7). But we should not suffer homesickness for past times. Nostalgia became a deadly disease for the people of Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus. Times weren’t always easy being God’s people on a journey and they longed wistfully for the food they had to eat in Egypt. How quickly they forget they were slaves in Egypt too, and we can often see the past through a very selective lens as well.

Psalm 106 describes Israel at that time in this way: “they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.” They failed to remember God’s goodness to them, and became nostalgic for Egypt. They also failed to wait for God’s plan to unfold. God had something better than what they had before. They had a promised land and a new home to look forward to. God called them not to be homesick for the past, but to long for the future.

So too is it with us. We have a new heavens and a new earth to look forward to. God has a plan and he calls us to wait for it to unfold. Times aren’t always easy as we do this, and we can be tempted to look back longingly to the past. Let’s instead be homesick for the future and for the future home that God has in store for us.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash