“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever longed for the “good old days”? Why? What about them did you desire? Simpler times? Different social interactions? Fewer burdens? No social media?
I have come to the conclusion that one of the major false gods of our culture is called Nostalgia. The thing about Nostalgia, though, is that he is subtle. No one realizes they are worshiping him at first, and even if you were to point it out to them, they’d just respond, “No, I’m not. I’m just reminiscing about the way things were.”
And yet, this is what the worship of Nostalgia looks like. We come to his altar and offer sacrifices of time and memory. We offer cynicism about the current state of the world. We offer judgments of people who are younger than we are. In return, he gives us warm feelings about the past that are a comforting salve for the pressures of the present.
Are you feeling too busy? Nostalgia offers you the memory of a time when life moved along at a slower pace. Are you feeling disrespected by someone (especially someone younger)? Nostalgia reminds you of a time when people were more respectful and knew how to talk to one another. Is technology threatening to overwhelm you (minus the wonder of the blog, of course!)? Nostalgia gently whispers in your ear, “People used to not need all of this and they got along just fine.” Is the increasingly secular and even pagan tone of the culture leaving you feeling like you are moving further and further out on a branch that isn’t going to hold you much longer? Nostalgia reminisces with you of a time when everybody went to church and people knew what was right.
This god has a solution for every problem. So what’s the catch? The catch is that the more we worship Nostalgia, the more we can get stuck in the past. While it is good and important to honor the past, we also need to be honest about it. Life has always been hard. It has been hard in different ways, but it has always been hard. People have always been broken by sin. How that has manifested itself has changed over time, but the brokenness has always been there. For instance, if you think people were more respectful of one another in the past, try going back fifty years and living life as a black man in the South. I think you’ll find people were not quite as respectful as you remember.
In other words, the past wasn’t better than the present and the present won’t be better than the future. Life is always moving forward. God is always moving forward. If we don’t go with it, if we don’t go with Him, finding the good in our current space and redeeming what is broken, we will get stuck in the past. We will become the person who has nothing to contribute to the present but judgment and condemnation. What good does that accomplish either in our lives or in the lives of the people around us?
There are far too many folks who have been left behind by life and are little more than bitter souls who always and only offer complaints about the way things are. This is the mark of someone who is worshiping Nostalgia. He offers us good memories, but he steals our joy in the exchange. He leaves us angry and bitter. He renders us unable to have growing relationships with the people around us and unable to enjoy the beauty of the situation we are in now. He offers pictures of the past that are overly rose-colored and filtered through the lens of Norman Rockwell. But when we try and reconstruct it, when we try and lay our hands on what he has offered, we invariably find it is something that cannot be had. This tradeoff just isn’t worthwhile.
Better is to honor the past and remember it fondly, but to be honest about the places where it too was broken, all the while looking for and delighting in what God is doing now. Let us seek the joy of the moment in the arms of our Savior. Let us take the good from the past and use it to love well the people of our present, especially those who are part of the next generation. Let us teach them to have a heart, not of bitterness over the fact that things are not like they were, but of gratitude that we had what did and that we now have what we do. Let us stick close to the God who is always moving forward toward the end that will be glorious and good far beyond anything that ever was in the past in order that we might be there to experience it with Him.
Nostalgia offers many subtle and sweet promises, but in the end, like any false god, all he ever delivers is heartache and disappointment. Better is to worship the God who is, to have as ours the joys that are real in the here and now, and the genuine hope of even more and better in the future.