Say not thou, “What is the cause that the former days were better than these?”
For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
Who has not heard of– or wished for– the “good old days”?
In the eyes of a lot of people, things were better in those “good old days.” A lot of people are confident that there was less sin and more righteousness in those good old days. People were more friendly, or more respectful, in the good old days. Life was easier and things were simpler in those good old days. There are a lot of people who think that it would be best to return to the “good old days”!
While some of these matters may have some validity– it may be that people were more respectful, or that life was easier in some ways– it misses the overall point. There is a major problem with the “good old days.” The “good old days” do not exist!
Humans have an ingrained tendency to remember the best parts of things and to forget the less pleasant elements of life. The Israelites, for instance, vividly remembered the food and drink they had in Egypt, but not so much the slavery, oppression, and hard bondage (cf. Exodus 16:3, 17:3). When faced with the challenges of the present it is easier to romanticize the past and pine for it, but the past was not nearly as rosy when it took place as it is glorified after the fact.
After all, were there not people in the 1950s who probably thought that things were better in the “good old days”? Would it not be the same in 1920? 1880? 1840? It would never end– things were always, apparently, better in the “good old days.”
All of this shows the wisdom of the Preacher. It is not wise to wonder why things were better in the past than they are in the present. The reason is that things are not inherently better or worse– just different.
Was sin less public in the past? It would seem so. But does that mean that there was really less sin, or that sin was just kept covered up and behind closed doors?
Was life easier in the past? Perhaps in some ways. Yet, then again, there were many diseases that caused great pain and distress that have since been cured, and tasks that used to take people days can now be done more simply.
Do there seem to be serious threats to our welfare today? Certainly; but there were serious threats in the past also. Fear of terrorism has replaced fear of Communism which itself replaced fear of totalitarianism and so on and so forth.
Are there major moral issues in the forefront of our culture? Most certainly. But there always have been. They may change based upon the season, but there is always something that needs to be addressed. Today’s disputes regarding abortion and homosexuality were similarly engaged in the past regarding racism, prohibition, and a host of other moral ills.
Since the Garden people have been sinning. There have been threats to life and happiness. There have always been reasons to believe that society/culture is going to the dogs. And yet there have always been people who have been willing to stand for what is right and good and holy (cf. Romans 11:5). Societies uphold and enforce some of God’s purposes while leaving others to the wayside.
People often take comfort by looking to the past and wishing for the “good old days.” The savage irony is that people in those “good old days” likely looked back to the “good old days” to them, and future generations will look back on these days perhaps as the “good old days.” It is not wise to dwell on what probably never really existed and which, regardless, cannot be resurrected. Instead, we must focus on the here and now. How can we promote the Gospel of Christ and make disciples among those who live in the early twenty-first century (Matthew 28:18-20, Romans 1:16)? How can we be best conformed to the image of the Son in our own time (Romans 8:29)? How can we stand firm for the truth of God in our culture today, not in a culture that may be quite distant in the past (1 Peter 5:7-9)?
Yesterday, for better and for worse, is gone. Tomorrow will come, and it will have its sufficient troubles (cf. Matthew 6:34). Our responsibility is to live today and to serve Jesus today (Romans 6:16-23, Galatians 2:20). Let us do so!
Ethan R. Longhenry