I had a conversation with a friend today, during which I was reminded of a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes,
Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Eccl 7:10)
One of the predominant themes in Ecclesiastes is contentment. Consider this passage,
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind. (Eccl 2:24-26)
It seems that both liberal and conservative people have a tendency to look back on the past as an ideal time. Liberals look back to a time when people lived less mechanized, commercial, or artificial lives. They see the present as misguided, and look to the future expecting catastrophe either from global warming or corporate domination. Conservatives look back to the 50s (Ike), 1770s (founding fathers) or earlier (Puritans) as they reminisce about how our country once had a more Biblically oriented approach to life. Current liberal trends such as environmentalism, feminism, and the gay-rights movement make them long for times when those words or phrases didn’t exist. Looking to the future, they wonder if any traditional values will remain.
I confess I have fallen into both camps at times. I sympathize with those who feel both a natural and a spiritual disconnect. Will I get cancer because of how much soda I drink, my cell phone, my car? Sometimes I even look back to 9th grade and remember how I was in much better shape (once I ran them mile in 5:43!).
As a Christian, I would much rather raise my children in a culture that was safer, and less anti-Christian (perhaps the 50s) than now. But then again, based on my experience living at a Christian college, I don’t enjoy living out my faith half as much when it’s the expedient thing to do. So maybe I wouldn’t cherish the 50s as much as I think.
It’s so easy to look back and long for the times before. But to do so is to fail to act in wisdom during the present. I’m not exactly sure why, but since the Bible says so, I completely agree.
Maybe it’s because our picture of the “good ol’ days” is layered with our flawed assumptions about what those eras were like.
For those of you who buy organic food, how would you prefer living in a time when there were no pesticides if you were more likely to die from cancer? If you wish America could bring back more family values, how would you like more traditional family values at the expense of your wife being far more likely to die giving birth to children?
Contentment is not a matter of changing the world around you to fit an ideal. It means accepting the circumstances around you, working hard, and giving glory and thanksgiving to God for everything you have.