Hindsight is 20/20. At least, that is what the saying says, and we will probably be hearing a lot more of this phrase as we approach year 2020, no matter what our actual vision acuity may be. But is hindsight really 20/20? Matthew Dicks, a blogger, thinks we should completely stop using the phrase. We, human beings, are notorious for repeated blunders. As Dicks writes, if hindsight were truly 20/20, then: “organizations wouldn’t continue to hire ineffective leaders; financial institutions wouldn’t continue to make risky bets, and his friend from high school wouldn’t have married a seemingly endless string of deadbeats, and students wouldn’t continue to forget to put their homework in their backpacks.”
How is your hindsight? Or rather, have you—like me—struggled to master your mistakes over a lifetime? Is your visual acuity, in hindsight, a bit worse for wear?
Jeremiah was a prophet from Anathoth, a small village which was to the north of Judah. He lived during a critical period in Judah’s history, when Babylon conquered Judah and Jeremiah’s people were exiled in Babylon. When we read Jeremiah’s prophecies, he foretells of a destructive power coming from the North. Later, it is clear who this power was, and for Jeremiah, it becomes clearer as to why the people of Judah were ultimately overcome. His visual acuity is not 20/20 but he sees that the people have had a hand in their collective demise. As a result, much of Jeremiah will sound rather harsh to us because of the way Jeremiah attributes the loss of his nation to a breaking of covenant with God. Through Jeremiah, the Lord says, “The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’/ those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal (following false gods) and went after things that do not profit.” (vs. 8). Later, the Lord questions through Jeremiah, “Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They have held fast to deceit; they have refused to return. I have given heed and listened. But they do not speak honestly; no one repents of wickedness, saying, “What have I done!”
What is a prophet to do? What can a prophet do? Jeremiah is truly heartsick as he watches the destruction of his people from both internal choices and external circumstances. They refuse to repent. They are greedy for unjust gain—and “everyone, from prophet to priest, deals falsely.” (vs 8:10).
Jeremiah suffers from the experience of watching a tragedy unfold before his eyes. He asks, “Where is God?” (Is the Lord not in Zion?) He also says that dismay has taken hold of him and asks why the health of his people has not been restored? How many of us have asked these same questions? Jeremiah is a prophet for our times.
However, for Jeremiah, these questions are rhetorical. In his belief, those who would question where God is might find it more helpful to ask where they are and what they are doing. In other words, for Jeremiah, the people themselves have a part to play in the restoration of the nation. They are not “off the hook.” If people have had a hand in their demise, then they also have a hand in their restoration.
Have you been heartsick recently for the slain of this nation? A friend of mine, another pastor, shared a video—a public service announcement– on FB about gun violence published by Sandy Hook Promise. It starts as a “back-to-school essentials” commercial but quickly shows how each of the essentials that parents might buy their kids for back to school might be necessary to help child in a school shooting or lock down. For example, new “back to school” sneakers can be used to run. New back to school socks could be used as impromptu tourniquets. A cell phone could be used to text Mom that last goodbye. The video is an effective way to get people to think about what kids in these kinds of situations must go through. But I didn’t want to watch the whole thing. It terrified me.
What would Jeremiah say about our propensity to greater and greater tolerance for gun deaths or the conversation that I had recently with my sitter (an art teacher in MoCo schools) who found herself talking with her students about alternative uses for X-acto knives for protection? As of a few days ago, America – in 2019 alone- had 40,801 incidents of gun violence which resulted in 10,814 deaths—504 children killed or injured, 2246 teens killed or injured, and 306 mass shootings—and 4 of those mass shootings occurred from July 28 to August 4. What does hindsight tell us about the prevalence of guns in our society and our desire to use them on each other?
In 1854, during the Crimean War, a British commander was determined to preserve a cache of guns. An high order was issued, “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front—follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy from carrying away the guns.” A terrible miscommunication resulted as the message got twisted by a Captain and another British commander led his cavalry into a suicide mission to secure a different cache of Russian guns which were heavily fortified and well-defended. Essentially, due to the mistake, the British Light Brigade were sent on a frontal assault. Of 637 men charging into battle, only 247 returned home. Terrible loss occurred. Though hindsight determined that the orders were unclear, the fight was about preserving one’s cache of guns and weaponry and a particular commander’s pride and determination not to lose a single gun. Six weeks later, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Hindsight showed that the military action was a complete blunder and recognized how personality, inordinate pride, miscommunication, and a failure to question orders or ask for clarification led to certain mass death. What does hindsight tell us about bloodshed resulting from guns?
The church is one of the few places where we openly talk about our covenant with God and why we should honor that covenant first and foremost. This is different from a covenant with a nation or with our families or even a covenant with our neighbor. You can read many things in Jeremiah, but one thing that we can see is that each and every individual is responsible for upholding his or her covenant with God. Jeremiah laments that his people fail to hold covenant, and this makes him heartsick and filled with dismay.
When are you apt to feel dismay?
We may feel dismay when we see an issue and can not see the wherewithal to overcome it or to abate it.
We may feel heartsick when we have a solution or want to try a remedy, but we lack the means or support to implement it.
We may feel heartsick when we are weary of laboring for change and our energy reserves and resources are low.
We may feel heartsick if we feel our cause is just, but our effort is futile.
And we may feel heartsick when we feel alienated or unheard.
Yet, in all these cases, we can still refuse to be silent about the hindsight that we have experienced or the future as it unfolds before our eyes. In all these cases, the loci of control remain with us. The covenant that we have with God “to choose life, that we might live,” remains with us. In all these cases, we may renew our energy and our drive by laboring with others—and showing up—to create the change that we pray to make.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician in the US to cure us of our madness and heart-dis-ease? In our hands, we hold a remedy. In our hearts, we hold a covenant.
Hindsight does not have to be 20/20 to point the way.
Psalm 33 says:
“A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Ps. 33:16-22)
May it be so.