The Good Old Days...?

Country singing sisters The Judds have a song called “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol’ Days).” The title pretty much sums it up. The lyrics are written from the perspective of a granddaughter who laments that the “world’s gone crazy” and who wants to hear about “the good old days.” These days represented a time when marriage and promises stood for something, a time when people prayed, and a time when fathers were present in their homes. When do you think this song was written? Well, it wasn’t yesterday. In fact, it was written in 1985, which means that grandpa wasn’t talking about the 1980’s or even the 50’s or 60’s, but probably the 20’s or 30’s. Ironically, that means that “the good old days” sat squarely in the Great Depression, a time few people living in it would have called “good.”

There is a great temptation for each generation to identify some previous point in history as a better, more idyllic time. And, to be fair, there are certainly some generations that have seen the pendulum of society swing to create an environment in which the Gospel was “in season” even as other generations have experienced its popularity go “out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Still, Solomon offers this warning about the way we view the past: “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” (Ecclesiastes 7:10 NASB). Why is this kind of retrospection deemed to be unwise by the wisest man to have ever lived? I can’t pretend to know all that Solomon had in mind when he wrote those words, but a few thoughts come to mind.

First, human generations are never devoid of the activity of Satan. Even the best periods of Bible history are still littered with people who grappled with and fell into sin. Satan may depart from an individual “for a season” (Luke 4:13 KJV, ASV) and he certainly flees from those who resist him (James 4:7), but he remains active in every period of history, “going to and fro on the earth, […] walking back and forth on it,” “like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (Job 1:7; 2:2; 1 Peter 5:8). It’s worth noting that “the good old days” of the 20th century also saw the holocaust, frequent international warfare and bloodshed, the rise of communism, and, closer to home, segregation and the terrible atrocities of racism.

Second, the “good old days” have frequently lulled God’s faithful into a complacency that leads to omissions and, eventually, terrible departure. When the generation that conquered Canaan passed away, “another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). How could this have happened? Did Joshua and Caleb’s generation think that their actions would speak so loudly that words wouldn’t be necessary? Did they assume that faithful worship at the tabernacle would somehow translate into faith in their children’s hearts? However it might have happened, the faithful neglected to teach their children, and as a consequence those children didn’t know about God and His works.

Third, as good as any previous time might have been, all of its goodness and any opportunities that it may have presented are gone. No amount of desire can bring the past back. Further, Satan loves to see people whose hearts are sorrowful about their present and whose eyes are firmly fixed on the past. He knows that as long as he keeps people looking backwards, they can’t meaningfully move forwards. The encouragement of Scripture is not to lament a time when “the days are evil,” but rather to redeem any time – to seize its opportunities and buy back its value (Ephesians 5:16). It’s always best to view the past as passed and the present as its namesake: a precious gift that God has given.  

I remember once teaching a Bible class that included an examination of Ecclesiastes 7:10 only to have a brother come up to me afterwards and say, “But they really were the good old days!” Nostalgia is incredibly powerful, but Solomon’s words remain true. If you feel discouraged about the way things are in today’s world, pray about it, and then do your part to make a change. Who knows whether you are living where you are and when you are “for such a time as this?” (cf. Esther 4:14).
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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