In some of our conversations in the church I hear a deep longing for another time and another place, a time and a place and a world where things made more sense. Nostalgia is understandable: when we are in a place of dislocation, of dissonance, where our maps of the world no longer hold—of course we want to be somewhere else, somewhere where it did all make sense, somewhere where we knew what we were doing, somewhere where we felt more or less in control of our destinies.
But what we do with our nostalgia matters. When God’s people were wandering in the desert after their escape from Pharaoh, they often found themselves thirsty and hungry. They cried out, Why did we ever leave Egypt? Sure, we were slaves, but we were fed and watered! Their nostalgia leads them to want to go back to Egypt, and even to be slaves again.
Today, Donald Trump invites people to join him on a campaign to “Make America Great Again.” That’s another form of nostalgia, a longing to go back to a time when the concept of America made sense for folks for whom the world has changed beyond recognition.
Nostalgia makes sense. And it can lead us astray. God brought the people out of slavery and into dislocation. Choosing slavery, with its predictability, meant choosing something other than God’s plan. God led the people into unpredictability and dislocation in part to help them to depend only on God—and not on their maps, and not on their resources, and not on the crumbs handed out by their overlords.
God set the people free, and freedom is hard. John Fowles, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, says that freedom must be won anew every day. Who wants that? Compared to that, the fleshpots of Egypt look attractive indeed. But God doesn’t call us to gather around the fleshpots. God calls us to gather around the cross, God’s means of setting the whole creation free.