The God of the older and newer Testaments does not stand on tradition, and has no use for nostalgia. Tradition and nostalgia have their place in human life– sometimes it’s nice to curl up with the photograph album– but as a cage to contain the Holy One, they are less than unhelpful: they are futile.
The God of the older and newer Testaments is a god of history, however– a god who is involved in unfolding time. The pattern of that divine involvement is the pattern of promise and fulfillment: “I brought you out of slavery, out of Egypt, and delivered you to the Promised Land.” The past contains this pattern, and the future will contain this pattern too. It’s not a mistake to expect God to fulfill God’s promises in the future; the mistake is to expect God to fulfill God’s promises in precisely the same way they were fulfilled in another time and place.
That is how nostalgia falls short: it expects “the way things were” to be the fulfillment of God’s promises for today.
The fundamental promise of the God of the Bible is to abide with us– not to leave us or forsake us, but to be present to us: “I am with you,” God says, over and over again. We are not given “how” or “under what circumstances” or “by what signs” that promise will be fulfilled. Part of our job is to wait, and look for God fulfilling God’s promise with eyes trained by trust. The other part of our job is to participate with God in redeeming the world, by loving kindness, doing justice, and walking humbly.
Regular readers will know that Religion in the Balance takes a dimmer view of human nature than does your average Enlightenment-saturated, in-progress-we-trust, optimistic American. If a better future is up to a humanity that strays wildly from the God of Love so as to be effectively cut off from that Source, then the word here is: no, the future will not be better than the past.
On the other hand, if a better future is up to a humanity that can find a way to trust a God who wills more good for us than we can possibly imagine for ourselves, then the word here is: yes, we’ve got a chance. What is yet to come will be better than what we have known ’til now.