"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Ecclesiastes

Torturing History

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these? ‘For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)


There is a valid place for the discipline of history. It is wisdom to learn from the past. The whole of the Old Testament calls for a reciting of God’s mighty deeds to a new generation. The psalmist rightly cried, “O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old” (Psalm 44:1) and longs for God to so move in the present generation.

Nostalgia, however, is a different matter and is neither wise nor helpful. Mark Buchannan insightfully writes, “. . . the past was never as clean and bright as we remember it . . . He who waxes nostalgic will usually, in time, turn bitter about how the past won’t return to him . . . the church of our summertime, whether we’re still in it or long ago moved on, seems holier and truer than wherever we are now” (Spiritual Rhythm, pp.119, 120).

He is correct. History, like statistics, will tell you anything you want it to say, if you torture it enough. Sometimes we’re guilty of torturing the past until it speaks to our vanity, praises us, and describes to us an air-brushed version of events.

We need the ability to look back with gratitude, instead of with wistfulness over why things aren’t the same anymore and instead of with anger at those who seem to stand in the way of the old times returning. Gratitude recognizes God’s hand in the good. Wistfulness grieves a loss in a way that never allows us to move on. Anger dishonors the good we’ve experienced and blocks any chance of further good in the present.

The ability to look back with gratitude and yet still look around in thankfulness is a Spirit-enabled grace. For this we need God’s present enabling.

Lord, thank you for so many good memories of past graces. But enable me, please, to live fully in the present that I might taste further and more fully of your goodness. Amen.

The First Time

new day

Can you recall the first time you … ate pizza in a restaurant? Went to a professional baseball game? Laid eyes on the one who would become our spouse? Held your child? Went to the emergency room?

Do you have a recollection of your first … day of School? Car? Date?

Add up all the “firsts” in your life; plot them along a timeline of your life. Where do you find the greatest concentration of “firsts”? It’s probably in the first portion of the timeline.

Here are a couple of lines from Scripture. Tell me on which end of the timeline of life do you think the author was when he wrote this.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

If you guessed him to be an older man, I’d say you are correct.

When we are young our orientation to life is generally future oriented. We are facing forward. We imagine and anticipate great things.

As we age our orientation to life becomes more and more oriented to the past. We are facing backward. Anticipation has been replaced by experiences and the memories that go with them. We no longer engage life according to the possibilities, but more and more interpret it through our experiences.

But here’s my question: Does it have to be this way?

I don’t think so. Hold the aging Solomon’s cynicism with life against the hopeful view of the future that gripped the aged Apostle John. To him God said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:3).

Note, He does not say, “I will make all things new.” Nor does He say “I will have made all things new.” Nor yet, “I made all things new.” It is, to be technical about it, a present tense verb. That might simply mean that at the moment of speaking it God would be in the midst of making all things new. But there is also the legitimate possibility that this is descriptive of what God might ever and always say and do in the eternal future of what we call “heaven.” Forever—for all eternity—God will continuously be making all things new.

Is not this what God is doing in this very moment in time (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16-18)? So what’s to say that heaven won’t be made up of a continuous, ongoing renewal … so that everything, each time will be always be a “first” time?

We concluded that most of the “firsts” of life are front-loaded on our timelines. But maybe that isn’t accurate. And maybe it isn’t how we are supposed to live life. Answer this: How many times have you lived this specific minute on this specific day? Only once! You may be doing it in a place you’ve been many times; surrounded by people you’ve known all your life. But you’ve never before lived this day in this place with these people in this specific set of circumstances. This is the first time you’ve ever lived this day, this moment! You’re in the midst of a “first time”!

I leave you with three challenges that I hope will aid you in learning to live all of life’s “firsts” with imagination and anticipation. I think they bring the fabric of heaven down to earth:

  • Live on purpose. It is easy to misplace your purpose in the clutter of life. That’s good soil for cynicism. Rediscover that purpose and see the present moment and the people present in your life through that divinely-given purpose.
  • Live in the moment. After all it’s the only moment you are guaranteed. It would be shame to waste it! Engage the present people and circumstances as a gift from God.
  • Live for the line, not the dot. That is what steps #1 and #2 achieve in our lives. We live fully in the moment (the dot; now), but for the line (eternity). And that makes every moment “new,” every encounter a “first time.”

Yesterday, When I was Young

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:1)

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