Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
It Happened Again
Looking at my current circumstances, I found myself taking a trip down memory lane to a day when life was better—things were easier, less stressful, more fulfilling. Lost in thought, I found myself glamorizing a season of life that I once lamented. My thoughts bounced like a pinball as they shifted from, "I had it so good back then..." to "...If only I could only get back to that, I'd be happy again." This wasn't my first nostalgic trip down memory lane in the past few years. More often than not, my mind slips into nostalgia—a word which used to be defined as homesickness.
The Importance Of Remembering
Thinking about the past is a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, it is commanded by God in placed like Deuteronomy 6 where remembering God's good deeds is of utmost importance for parenting and preparing the next generation. Forgetting God's Word and work is fatal, as in the case of Judges 2:10 in which "there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel." The evil and faithlessness of Israel was due to the fact that they failed to remember God's powerful working in the lives of their forefathers.
Ungratefulness is a sin which brings pain to everyone involved. Imagine the frustration of parents whose children begged for thousands of dollars worth of Christmas gifts only to be bored and asking for more by March. The Israelites did this and far more in the Wilderness of Sin. After God answered their prayers and rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 2:24), he brought them through a wilderness of suffering on their way to the promised land.
The Israelites looked back with sickening nostalgia and cried out, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex. 16:3). In this display of supreme grumbling against God, they desired to be back in their slavery and killed because they had meat and bread to eat there. Their cries to God in Exodus 2 turned into to cries of discontentment and anger toward God in Exodus 16.
It is often stated that hindsight is 20/20 and this is very true. Hindsight can also be deceptive if viewed through the wrong lens. Just as the Israelites deceived themselves into thinking their past was better than their current circumstances, we too deceive ourselves when we get lost on a journey in the “good ol’ days”. We petition God to bring us a new job, a decent home, more children, a ministry position, a godly spouse, and much more. Yet, the new car smell wears off, the pipes burst, bills go up, the church gets challenging, and it seems that everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Then it happens again, we zone out and go into our 5-star nostalgia resort for a weekend stay. We plot how to get back and never return to this old place. We’re convinced that we made a mistake leaving that old place and if we can get back to our roots, all of today’s problems will be solved. It’s subtle, too. If only we sang the old songs again. If only our former pastor were here. If only our small group looked like it used to. If only, if only, if only…
Where Is Our Wisdom?
Ecclesiastes 7:10 has a word for us in our nostalgia. As we subconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) doubt God’s goodness and providence in our lives, we are told “it is not from wisdom that you do this.” It is unwise for us to ask “why were the good ol’ days so much better?”. It is foolish for us to stay focused on days long gone. But why? Because God has made our days of prosperity as well as our days of adversity (Ecc. 7:14). When we despise today, we despise God and His wisdom. When we idolize yesterday, we treat God as if He knew what He was doing then but not now. We rob ourselves of joy and contentment today because we are stuck in the blessings of yesterday. We are called daily to “draw near to God” so that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
A Better Today
The gospel is our cure when we get trapped in nostalgia. Looking back is only good if it points us back to God and His glorious work. Is there good in our past to look back on? Of course! Thank God for being gracious in those seasons! Is there trouble today that wasn’t with us in the past? Definitely. Seek Christ today for your strength to endure. Will today look better than some day in the future? Probably. Ask the Spirit to prepare you for the adversity that is to come. The greatest days of the past are when grace appeared. In these days Christ paid for sin and then rose from the dead with power. These great days make way for the greatest day in our future, when Christ returns to rescue His people and bring them into His presence for eternity.
When our nostalgic vacations last too long, we lose sight of those glorious days. The days of slavery to sin and wickedness can seem like a beach house in the Caribbean compared to the seemingly dreary days of walking with Christ. This is not wisdom, and it steals our joy. Let us choose the greater path each day we walk on this earth. As God commanded through the apostle Paul, “set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just , whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Look back to the past, but don’t live there. Consider for the future, but trust God. Enjoy God and glorify today, wherever you may be.
Chrys Jones is a Christian, husband, father of three, pastor, and teacher. He is also a recording artist and producer for Christcentric Records and a book briefer for Accelerate Books. In his free time, Chrys loves to spend time with his family, roast coffee, read good books, and listen to beat tapes and jazz.