It’s a peculiarity of human psychology we strongly prefer what we know to what we don’t know. In fact, we favor a bad situation that is known over a possibly good situation that is unknown.
It’s an old idiom: “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” We tend to believe that it’s better to deal with a difficult person or situation we know than with a new person or situation that could be worse. We are averse to that risk. We downplay the the possibility that the new situation could be better. This is not 100% true in every circumstance, of course, but it’s generally true that familiar things hold greater power over us than unfamiliar things.
It’s one of the reasons that bad habits are so hard to break. We joke about “new year’s resolutions” for a reason: they rarely come to fulfillment. “The devil we know” keeps us captive because deep down inside, we prefer it that way.
Around the year 586 BC, Babylonian forces waged war on Judah and destroyed Jerusalem. Some historians say that the Judean population shrank by 90% due to war, deportation, famine, and disease.
Survivors with the clearest memories of the traumas understandably yearned for their former ways of life. Newer generations born in Babylon adapted to their reality, deciding to make the best of the options before them. The “rememberers” were plagued by despair. The “accommodators” began to forget who they were. To both groups, God spoke these words, found in Isaiah 43:18-19:
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
To those who believed that the only future lay in the past, God promised something new. To those who looked forward and saw only impossibility, God promised the unexpected. There are no ways in the wilderness and no rivers in the desert. Everyone knew these things.
But God’s words offer a priceless truth: what we know is not the limit of what can be known. What we have experienced is not the final extent of what our life can be. So make your resolutions with courage. If you stumble and fall, get right back up and keep moving forward. Whatever positive growth you want for yourself, God desires that and more for you. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Don’t despair for the past, and don’t give up on your future. God is ready, willing, and able to do a new thing in you.