If I were to ask you what you thought of when I said the word progress, you would probably reply with various words like motion, prosperity, and success. But if I were to ask you what you thought of when I said backwards progress, would you still have an answer? What is backwards progress, anyway?
Good question. Simply put, I call backwards progress that progress that is made first by going backward, then going forward. It may sound counterintuitive, but it is a reality and it has its root in repentance.
In an essay titled "We Have Cause to be Uneasy," C. S. Lewis, a thinker-writer for whom I have great admiration, wrote the following words:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
You see, backwards progress recognizes the fact that sometimes our decisions and actions land us in a place that we can only go forward from by going backwards first. If we make a poor decision, for example, and stubbornly
continue in spite of being wrong, we do not somehow eventually come across a solution, we simply compound our wrongness.
It is the same way with our relationship to God. “Come,” the prophet Hosea once cried out, “let us return to the LORD…. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:1, 3, italics added).
Repentance (which is the word for the phrase “let us return to the LORD”—see the backward progress?) may not be easy for us. Confessing our wrongs to God, or to anyone else for that matter, is difficult to do. It requires a couple things.
First, it requires an awareness of right and wrong. Repentance is not available in a world where right and wrong do not exist. Frankly, a lot of what we see happening around the world today is the result of worldviews that have hijacked the truth of right and wrong for their own goals.
Second, repentance requires humility. In order to apologize for wrongdoing, in order to confess a sin or a mistake, we have to be humble. Pride does not confess wrong; self-righteousness does not admit sin; conceit never owns guilt. Humility is a necessary ingredient to backwards progress.
So, why would we bother with right and wrong and humility? Because what awaits us on the other side of repentance is what we all want—a blessing. Hosea says that God will send us “the spring rains”; that is, God will bless us. But there cannot be a blessing without repentance. First comes the relational health, then comes the blessing.
Let me encourage you: Don’t continue in the wrong direction simply because you are moving. Move in the right direction. Make backwards progress if you need to. It may seem illogical at first, but your progress will soon be evident.