When [Angels of the Lord] had brought [Lot and his family] outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed."
We read these words from Genesis as instruction to Lot’s family as they leave the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah just moments before the destruction of the two cities. Despite the angel’s warning, we read just nine verses later in v. 26, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.”
Throughout the years there has been lots of debate about Sodom and Gomorrah, but we often gloss over what happens to Lot’s wife. I mean God went to the trouble of sending His angels to wake up Lot and his family and get them out of the city, before he brought judgment upon it, and then just nine verses later God turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt simply for looking back. I don’t know about you, but this has always struck me as strange.
Two weeks ago we spent the week in Navajo, working along the people who live there. It was during our time at Navajo that this passage started to become clearer to me. Let me explain. During our trip, we heard some of the stories of the Navajo people. How their holy people told them that they should settle between their four holy mountains. How for thousands of years they had everything they needed. Then the European’s came and brought disease and stole land that belonged to God. We heard stories about how the early settlers took the land where the Native American’s lived and how in an effort to tame the savages, the United States government took young boys out of their homes and sent them to boarding schools, “Indian Schools,” so they could be taught English and become more American.
We also learned the same government that took children from their homes and punished them for speaking their native language, 80 years later needed the Navajo and their language to win WWII. Some say if it wasn’t for the Navajo Code Talkers, the U.S. might not have won the war against Japan. After WWII, when a Navajo was asked why they helped the government that took so much from them, one Code Talker responded “I did it because this is my country.”
It is hard to hear about the past atrocities of the Navajo people as a European descendant and not feel a sense of shame of guilt. It would not have surprised me if there were Navajo people who, at the sight of our group, were hostile or showed resentment towards us. However, this was not the case. While we were there, we felt nothing but love and hospitality. So how do people who have had such terrible things done to them by the “white man” and our government not hold a grudge? Because they don’t look back!!
The Navajo people don’t believe in looking back, but rather to the future. One person said, “we can’t change the past, and we can’t change what happened to our ancestors by your ancestors, but we can change how we treat each other today and in the future, so let’s show each other love and respect.” This isn’t just something they talk about; it is part of who they are as Navajo. In fact, they have buildings called Hogans. These are the traditional building of the Navajo people and now used for ceremonial purposes. As you enter a Hogan, you enter the door and turn left. If you want to leave you, must walk around the entire Hogan and exit on the left, signifying the importance of never looking back and always moving forward.
As we spent a night in a Hogan, it hit me how the Navajo way of life was much more “Christian” than the “Christians” who came and took their land, killed their food supply for fur and tried to wipe out their culture. As Christians, we spend a lot of time looking back, like Lot’s wife. We think about the people who wronged us, the “unforgivable” things we have done, or opportunities missed and it consumes a lot of our time and energy. There is something about the past that allows us to justify things in the future. How many of us have thought, “I did this, because last week/month/year, so and so did that to me?”
I sometimes think, good or bad, we long for the past, like Lot’s wife, because it is what we know. The future can be scary, as it is full of uncertainty, but it is also full of hope and new beginnings. One thing, of many, I learned this past week is that to follow Christ, our hope must be in the present and future and not in the past. Despite the fact that many of us want to live in the past, we can’t change it, all we can do is move forward.
Looking forward is part of the Navajo culture. It is who they are. It is because of this hope in tomorrow that allows them to forgive in a Christ-like manner. I encourage you to not to look back, but keep your eyes looking forward, to the hope that is Jesus Christ. If you need to let go of a past hurt or past sin so you can focus on the future, do it! Jesus tells us to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and He will deal with them, He will take away our burdens so we can live in the hope that is Jesus Christ because living with hope is how we should live life.