My great-grandparents. Great-grandma
and their oldest child both died of pneumonia.
Hebrews 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
Living In the Past
It’s a fairly common thing for people to yearn for the “good old days”. We tend to perceive things back then to be “better than they are now”. From editorial rants to reenactments and even those who live their daily lives as much as possible “in the good old way”, there’s a common theme that the past was better. If we could only return to it we’d all be “better off.” But, is that God’s view of things?
In the midst of some general admonitions in Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote under inspiration, Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. Ecclesiastes 7:10 Basically, what this means is that longing for “the good old days” is not wise.
This concept will probably offend some people, especially those who are caught up in the whole reenactment of history fad. Not that I think those things are totally wasted. Watching a group of women at a living history museum sweating away in long sleeves and long dresses cleaning up an old timey kitchen house in Central Texas is very informative to those who think that life was better “back then.” But, in God’s estimation we can conclude that there is nothing particularly helpful or spiritual about yearning for a past era.
First of all, I’d like to answer those who actually insist on living a historic lifestyle as their daily life. To live simply and wholesomely in this present world is one thing, but to long for the past to the point of taking up a daily way of life intentionally so far removed from the present as to make complications, and added expense and work for ourselves – how does that fit with going about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49)? In a situation where living simply is necessary for survival it’s one thing, but there is a difference. For example, learning hand sewing has definite benefits, but insisting on sewing all one’s clothes by hand and in antiquated styles only generates extra work and takes time and resources that might be more wisely spent. Blacksmithing may prove to be a useful skill in the foreseeable future, but that does not mean we should insist that all metal goods be made by a blacksmith.
Then there are those who think that they would have been better off born in another era. Being a bit of a history buff myself, I can’t help wondering at people sometimes. I marvel at those who think they would love to go back to the Dark Ages up to about the 1700s. I sometimes think that they fail to realize that most of the population did not live in the castles back then. Most were not nobility and most of them did not even directly serve the nobility in the big house or castle. They were serfs or slaves.
Some of my European ancestors were allegedly landowners back in Austria long, long ago. But, I also have Cherokee and Irish ancestors. I can’t help thinking that, had I lived “back then”, it’s more likely that I’d have been a squaw or serf than a moderately wealthy landowner “on the continent.”
When I think of the gross lack of sanitation; the disease; the plague; the religious bondage; the slavery; the hard, hard labor just to survive; the death rate among babies, children and new mothers; the hopelessness of curing bacterial infections; the arranged marriages, often made primarily for the advantage of the guardians; the horrible wars; the lack of education; and so much more, I am not sorry to live in this day and age. I like refrigerators and air conditioning and central heat. I like running water, water heaters and inside toilets. I have used an outhouse on a blustery, snowy winter day. It was not pleasant. In fact, there’s a good chance that I would already have been dead if I’d lived “back in the good old days.” I am also very thankful to live in an era in which I can have my own copies of scripture to study and read for myself! We can certainly learn from history and there’s nothing against that in scripture that I can see, but to long for the past, to say that we or someone else was “born too late” or “should have been born” in such-and-such a time – this goes against the wisdom and will of God.
The Lord wanted us to live in this time or He would not have put us here. To imagine that we would be happier, wiser, or more content in another era is to question the very sovereignty of God. Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. This includes being content in the time we live in when taken in context with the Ecclesiastes verse.
God put each one of us in this time and place and in this era:
1. for His glory,
2. to do His good pleasure and will,
3. to be His servant in this present wicked world.
Ephesians 1:3-12 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
How does longing after the past glorify and honor God, who put us in this present time for a purpose? It seems wasteful at best, rebellious at worst. Certainly it is useless baggage that doesn’t help us “run the race with patience”.
Considering the fact that we have so much to look forward to in Christ, I think it’s safe to say that dwelling in the past, either historically or emotionally, is insulting to our heavenly Father. He intends for us to hope for and look for those blessings that He has promised over and over again in scripture. By longing to go back to some former era (historic or in our own lives), we are saying that we love the past, even with all its misery and sorrow, more than we love the future blessedness that God has ordained for them that love Him. Would you really want to go back to some point in time before some loved one died – and then live through the misery of losing them again? That sounds horrible when you think of it that way.
We are so much closer today to the fulfillment of all those great blessings and expectations God has given us, how can we long to go back in history and live all that sorrow over again? How can we not accept this present time, distressing though it be, as we see how close we approach to the fulfillment of the wonderful future we have in Christ?
I have felt the drawing of the past myself, especially in recent times when thinking of my grandparents’ and parents’ early years. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine that life was better then and there was less to struggle with. Certainly there appears to have been more Christian fellowship. The overwhelming busyness, compromise and wickedness of this present time tempts us think that life must have been better “back then”.
Interestingly, as humans in this life, we seem to need a connection with the past in order to identify with who we are now. Even advertisers know this and appeal to our nostalgia and sentiment to sell their products. We are afraid of losing our connection with the past. I think this is one reason I struggle so with the future passing of my own parents. I’m afraid – afraid of losing that precious connection with what once was. I see this in others as well, in various ways. But, the realization is also growing for me that, coming from a family of many believers, the connection is not lost because so many of them are in Heaven where we are headed soon. My connection with the past should be a connection with the future!
More importantly, however, is something that applies to those who are not from Christian families which is this: As the children of God in Christ Jesus, we have a connection with the past that is so much greater, so much more all encompassing and large, so much more instructive and wise than any human connection could ever be, that we have no need to fear! We are born into the family as the children of the Eternal Father. He has the greatest and truest knowledge of all that has passed before and that is and that will be. And, His Holy Spirit lives in our hearts and, He has promised, will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). There is nothing we need to know that He cannot give us. How awe inspiring it is to think that the “I AM” who dwells always in the present through all of history has chosen to pinpoint His great wealth of “connection” into such weak and needy vessels as we are!
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Remembered No More
In a recent post I quoted a verse that the Lord is using to stretch me. Isaiah 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. This verse has struck me with thoughts on various aspects of life, but let’s think about it in regards to the issue at hand. Listen again, God says He’s going to create new heavens and a new earth: and the former __shall__not__be__remembered__,nor__come__into__mind. That is mindboggling to us as humans stuck, as it were, in the midst of history.
But, now combine this thought with 2 Peter 3:10-13 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Friends, the Lord is going to burn up everything on this old earth, and those who are born again into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ are not going to even remember it! It won’t even cross our minds! I don’t know how to emphasize that enough! What a totally freeing thought! Have you considered it? All the memories (good and bad), the history, the complications of life, the political struggles, the wars, the defining moments, the hurts, and the things we spend our time on that have no eternal value ---- they won’t even come to mind! GONE!! FOREVER!!
John 8:35-36 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
This is not to say that everything on this earth is worthless to us now. Nor is it to say that we shouldn’t value the good memories and blessings that have come to us from the past, especially when we may use them for God’s glory in any way. It also does not mean that we can’t learn from the past. After all, scripture is full of history that is intended by God to instruct us and give us hope! Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
(By the way, beware of reading history that only makes you feel like a hopeless victim or that depresses you. There’s a lot of stuff written that only tends towards despair.)
But, while we may surely find edifying and instructing from the past that helps us today, to yearn to “go back”, to long for things that are no longer attainable simply can’t be right or helpful. Also, the burden of groping for some past treasure we imagine is irreplaceably lost will drag us down and away from the good things we should be looking and reaching forward to.
I feel this particularly as I’ve lamented over things that are lost in the past or perhaps will be at some point. For example, if it had been useful to me in my walk with Christ to have my Gramma’s diaries, God would have seen to it that I got them. It was a situation I had virtually no control over, and the Lord knew that. He could have worked it out, but He didn’t. It was not His will for me and I must let them go mentally. Wow. How easy is that…..and yet how hard?
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Everlasting life is not something that we will have “someday”. For those who believe on the Son, we have it now. We are not bound by the times of this earth. We have everlasting life – now – today. We need to stretch ourselves to try to live both in the here and now, not fretting constantly about the future as Jesus told us (Matt. 6:34); but also to live with the attitude of travelers who are headed to something so much better than this present wicked world that it neither terrifies nor causes us to look back longingly.
Remember the words of Paul: Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
Hebrews 11:13-16 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
Revelation 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
I feel a strong need to lay aside useless wistfulness regarding the past; to strive toward looking ahead more and looking back less. It will be hard sometimes I know, but in the face of present world events it somehow seems urgent. The time is short, we need all our strength to run the forward race that is set before us with patience.
How about you?