Hindsight is for Idiots

by Andy Wood on January 21, 2010

in Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy, Protecting Your Investment, Tense Truths

Tense Truth:  Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.  But we are virtually helpless to reinterpret history for ourselves.  We need a Source of truth that isn’t subject to the distortions we bring to hindsight.


Ms. Past, she’s such a wicked lady,

Ms. Past, she’s always there a waiting,

She’s the Devil’s favorite tool,

She’ll play you like a fool,

She’ll try until she rules.

-Michael and Stormie Omartian

Whoever said hindsight is 20/20 needs new glasses.

Hindsight is blind as a bat. 

It’s a house of mirrors.

You can get more accuracy from a weekend weatherman about a 10-day forecast than you can from looking at life in the mirror.

If hindsight is 20/20, why do historians always argue?

If hindsight is 20/20, why do two people in conflict always tell two completely different stories?  (And tell two more a week later?)

If hindsight is 20/20, why does the same event speak to you completely differently from the perspective of a day, a week, a month, a year, or a generation?

If hindsight is 20/20, why does God repeatedly have to remind the children of Israel about their rescue from Egypt and the whole Red Sea episode?  I’ll tell you why.  Because three days – three days! – into the wilderness, that crowd got thirsty and had no water in sight.  So they looked backwards with “20/20 hindsight” and suddenly got it!  God brought them out there to die because there weren’t enough graves in Egypt!

Oh.  Good.  Grief.

“We see in a mirror darkly,” Paul says.  Uh huh.  That’s what looking backwards gets you.

So does that mean that all reflection about past events is flawed or wrong?  No.  But it means you’d better hold your interpretation of them very loosely.

The problem with hindsight isn’t the events or experiences themselves.  It’s the lenses we view them through – all of which claim 100 percent accuracy.  They all lie.  Here are a few examples:


The lens of failure interprets your entire past in light of your one or more significant failures.  “I guess I’ll spend the rest of my life being the moral to somebody else’s story… I wish just once I could get it right… No one will ever love me because no one will ever trust me… All I have ever done is screw things up….”


The lens of helplessness looks at past events and sees our own actions as the only possible, logical outcome to a situation.  “I was left with no other choice… I was helpless to do anything different… I had  to defend myself!… I did what anybody else would have done….”


The lens of opportunism looks at past events as ways to profit or gain from the future.  “This will make a heck of a story one day…. I’ll expose all and tell all… I don’t get mad – I get even…”


The lens of rejection interprets past events as proof of, or the threat of, personal rejection.  “I knew it was just a matter of time…. I knew if she became friends with her this would eventually happen…  I think he knew all along this would turn out this way…  He’s writing about me, isn’t he?…”

Self Righteousness

The lens of self righteousness holds up a standard – God’s or somebody else’s – and filters out our own failures in order to focus on the sins of others.  “I can’t believe they would accuse me of that… All these years of service to God, and this is the thanks I get… Does anybody other than me really serve the Lord any more?… In all of their stuff, not once did I fail to do the right thing….”


The lens of shame sees yourself as unworthy of love – that you yourself are fundamentally flawed.  “What’s wrong with me?… Why should I expect God to love me – nobody else ever has?… I’ll find some way to screw it up – I always have… If you knew about me what I know about me, you’d believe what I believe about me… Nothing good has ever happened to me because nothing good should ever happen to me….”


The lens of victimhood sees every past event as evidence that people are users and abusers, and that life is painful. “I should have known they would do me this way…. Everybody I love winds up breaking my heart… I knew I shouldn’t trust them… Why does every relationship I have wind up jerking me around?…”

There are others – plenty of them.  The lens of pride.  Achievement.  Rebellion.  Criticism.  Betrayal.  Fat.  Sexuality.  Punishment.  Bitterness or anger.  Grief.  Magical thinking.  But hey, those are just mine.  I’m sure you have your favorites, too.

The One True Mirror to the Past

You want accuracy?  Wisdom?  Try this:  “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  Wisdom comes from looking at the horizon and hearing the clock ticking and the bell tolling for your cold, dead carcass.

With hindsight, there is one and only one way to have any accuracy at all.  Check this out:

But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”  (Genesis 20:19-20, NLT)

The one source of insight from hindsight is God.  And until you or I hear what He has to say about our past events (and He doesn’t always disclose that information right away), we would be wise to hold our interpretations loosely and humbly.

Like my geometry teacher used to say… “Y’all check me now.  I may be wrong.”

The psalmist put it this way:

I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints (Psalms 85:8, NIV)

In other words, before you presume to have insight or foresight from hindsight, shut up and listen.

Eric Chaffin January 22, 2010 at 7:09 am

I think I get it. We must look at the past objectively, from a “God’s-eye-view” rather than the subjective lenses we tend to look through. If we’ll listen to Him, he can help us to see that truly “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) in order for us to be “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Good word, Brother.

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