Changing the Past?  The Revisionist History of Prey (2 Kings 20, Isaiah 38-39)

One of the most interesting concepts within the recently released Prey (not to be confused with the original Prey on the Xbox 360) is the decision to base their story in an alternate timeline in which John F. Kennedy was never assassinated.  In the game’s fiction this led to incredible advancements within space exploration that places us light years ahead of where we currently set.  It’s certainly an interesting hook, and it provokes some real world consideration as to what the actual differences would be on this planet if JFK had lived and continued to impact the planet as the leader of the free world.  And while the game only used this concept as the backdrop for their story of space exploration gone wrong, I believe we should dive a little deeper and consider the real world implications of changing a moment in time.

Many times in business meetings the facilitator will engage the attendees in an “ice-breaker” activity with the intentions of causing the participants to reveal personal aspects of their lives and create a more open and dynamic meeting atmosphere.  In many of the meetings I have attended one of the questions asked during this is “If you were a super-hero, what would your super-power be?”  Some people would choose generic super-powers like the ability to fly or possessing super-strength, and others may take a more practical approach such as reading minds or telekinesis.  But for me, there has only ever been one correct answer… the ability to control time.  To me, that is the holy grail.  Want to stop a problem before it starts?  Hit pause and fix it.  Want to see if you are making the right choice?  Move a few hours into the future and see what happens.  Make a critical mistake?  Hit rewind and course-correct as needed.

To me, all other super-powers would be irrelevant to this.  Who needs super speed when you can simply stop time and travel at whatever pace you want?  Why would you need super-strength to solve a problem when you can simply go back in time and stop it from ever occurring in the first place?  Reading minds would be less powerful than being able to move into the future and see both the thoughts and the consequences of your rivals.  But my chosen super-power would not be the cure-all I wish it was, and there are some very important reasons why time travel is not the answer to our problems.  For years television and movies have explored the implications of traversing time, giving is everything from the time paradox issues in Back to the Future to the fatal problems generated by Flash when he created Flashpoint.  Intentionally or accidentally, meddling with the timeline has never ended well for those doing the tinkering, and the inevitable solution always comes at a heavy cost.

Have you ever wanted to go back in time and change just one moment?  I’m not talking about small things like stopping dinner before it burns or realizing your pants have an embarrassing stain in the posterior region a little too late… I mean a moment that changed your life forever.  Maybe it was a bad decision you made that ruined lives that you can never take back.  Perhaps it was a sentence you uttered that had larger consequences than you realized.  It could be the job interview that would have changed everything that you declined or an accident that altered you physically in a permanent way.  And I’m not simply talking about regretting personal mistakes either.  I think we all wish we could go back in time and invest a little money into good ol’ Apple before they hit it big, or do something even more impactful like stop national tragedies before they happened.

Before we answer the questions posed by such thoughts, did you know that the Bible has a chapter on time travel?  We have explored 2 Kings 20 previously but this time we are going to take a look at it from a different point of view.  Thousands of years before comic superheroes learned of the dangers of creating alternate timelines King Hezekiah would learn the hard way the time travel is not the answer to your problems.  As we enter the chapter we find the king on his literal deathbed as the prophet Isaiah informs him that the Lord has determined that this will be his method of passing on.  But rather than heed the Lord’s command to get his affairs in order and prepare for graduation, Hezekiah pleads for healing and an extension of his life.  The Lord grants his request, but Hezekiah wanted proof and was given the choice of time moving forwards or backwards as evidence that he would be healed.  Raise your hand if you think he voted backwards.  Of course he did.  The Lord literally turned back the clock, Hezekiah’s fatal illness departed, and the timeline resumed without any consequences.  Well, not exactly….

As we find over the next several verses, Hezekiah turns his time travel and new lease on life in a very poor direction.  The eventual conquerors of the southern tribes, the nation of Babylon, sent an envoy of ambassadors to check on the king after his illness.  The king used this as an opportunity to show off the treasures of the kingdom, and upon the ambassadors return to Babylon the prophet Isaiah informed Hezekiah that this seemingly small and innocent act would be what eventually brought the destruction of the country and the downfall of Israel for thousands of years.  All because Hezekiah thought his situation should have played out differently and literally turned back the clock to reset the game.

There are so many moments in my life I wish I could go back and change.  Maybe avoid a temptation that would eventually ensnare me, definitely close my mouth before I said something I could never take back, or stop a problem before it even started by making a different decision.  But this example shows me that while the path I have walked has not always been optimal and I am responsible for much of my suffering through my own poor choices, the reality is I would make an even BIGGER mess of things if I got another chance to live through these circumstances.  I may not make the same mistakes… Instead I would make entirely new ones that could be even more devastating than the current outcomes my original choices generated.

Fortunately for us, going back in time isn’t in the cards for any of us.  Our choices may not have been the best at the time, but reversing those would remove the learning experiences that they created as well as change the future for not only us, but generations to come in ways we could not possibly imagine.  As the Babylonian army descended for its final fatal attack on Jerusalem, all of those people who either died or were led away captive were a direct result of the choice Hezekiah made many generations prior during a time period he should have no longer been present for.  And none of them were aware that their fate was sealed by a long dead king who simply reversed time a little bit and bit off a few more years of life than God had originally given him.

As we wrap up, I hope this encourages you to stop beating yourself up for the present you have inherited either through other’s poor choices or your own.  The rear view mirror should be broken off of our life’s windshield because we can’t affect it anyway, and we would only make things worse if we could. Time machines are not the answer to anyone’s problem and changing the past runs the risk of removing the only good things that have come out of your predicament if you alter them.  There is a reason only the Lord exists outside of time and rules the past, present, and future.  He is the only being wise enough to see how each domino affects others thousands of years down the line.  The butterfly effect of our choices are much larger than our circumstance may divulge at the time.  A few hours back in time and a few extra years of life brought about the destruction of an entire nation.

So rather than continue to wish we could take a few things back or alter our decisions in the past, let’s spend our time using even our shortcomings and mistakes to the glory of God.  The apostle Paul was never shy about his past as a Christian bounty hunter… while he was certainly ashamed of his past sins he chose to use it to encourage others that no matter how sordid their past was it could not compare to his, and yet the Lord chose him to be the greatest evangelist in the history of the world.  I have made horrible, embarrassing, disqualifying mistakes in my life that have led to multiple sinful choices.  Perhaps you feel the same way.  But instead of allowing those defeats to exist in my past, present, and future I have a choice to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness and then extend the same to others who have fallen into similar sins.  Don’t let your past exist in your present except to remind you of how epicly awesome God’s love is and how important it is to share that good news with someone else.  See you in the future!

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