Friday, July 06, 2012

The Not-So-Good Old Days

As a lover of history and literature, I have often longed for days gone by. I've dreamed of a time when things seemed simpler, better, and more wholesome. Although I would be loath to give up some of the conveniences of our modern era (does anyone else love running water and electricity?), the thought of a time when the only food available was organic and there were no iPhones has a distinct appeal.

But reading Ecclesiastes shifted my perspective a bit.

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 ~ 

Here is what 18th century theologian John Gill had to say about this verse:

"This is a common opinion, that in all ages prevails among men, that former times were better than present ones... Which, if rightly inquired into, or the true knowledge of them could be come at, it would appear that they were no better than the present; and that there were always bad men, and bad things done; frauds, oppressions, and violence, and everything that can be complained of now... [The inquirer should] not arraign the providence of God, and murmur at that, and quarrel with it; as if the distributions of it were unequal, and justice not done in one age as in another."

I find it interesting that glorifying the past is really a way of complaining that God has been better to others than He has to us.

And if "the good old days" were really better, one must assume that the human race has degenerated over time (hence the "not-so-good current days").

This quotation has been attributed to Socrates, and seems remarkably applicable to modern society:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Man is a fallen creature, and has been since the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Sin is the same now as it was then, and just as much of it is bound up in the human heart. And if doubt lingers, even a brief study of Genesis 19 should dispel it! I'm hard pressed to find a more sordid or sickening display of human depravity than what is recorded in that single chapter of the Bible.

But what about the Victorian era, with its morality and propriety? Or the 1950's, with its happy families and pearl-bedecked housewives? True, evil may be more blatantly displayed in our modern culture than it was then (although that is something that fluctuates by era, as even a brief study of history will reveal -- think of ancient Rome shortly before its fall, or even the Roaring 20's). It seems nothing is hidden now, no matter how inappropriate. But in one sense this is a great blessing.

How can I say that?

When all false social morality is stripped away, how much more does the light of the Gospel shine? The veneer of the Victorian age was just that -- a veneer. There were devout Christians then, just as there are now. But not all of those who followed societal norms of propriety were believers, and that means that their "good behavior" left them in the same place as those today who live in open sin. In human terms, it's actually harder to convince those that live a "good" life that they are dead in their trespasses and sins and are desperately in need of a Savior. Of course, it is the Holy Spirit that convicts the sinner of his sin, and He is no more hampered by our contemporary pop culture than by the Pharisaical "righteousness" of Victorian society.

The distractions of the modern world sometimes seem overwhelming, and I often blame them for my lack of concentration in spiritual matters. It's just so easy to get sidetracked when modern life is a blur of advertising and entertainment! But I ask myself, if I lived a century or two ago, could not the increased struggle for the basic necessities of life be just as much of a distraction? Remembering to keep the fire stoked may have been replaced by watching an episode of House Hunters on Hulu, but no matter how modern or antiquated my occupation, it is my own mind and heart that allows distractions to creep in.

Ultimately, God is sovereign -- which means He controls the society we live in. And His sovereignty over history also means that He has placed me in 2012 instead of 1812 for a reason. If I really trust in His perfect plan, I will not wring our hands over some imaginary utopia of years past. Instead, I will testify of His mercy and grace to those who are lost and dying.

You can find my theological disclaimer here.


  1. What a true statement! The past is not necessarily better than the present, humans have been sinners since man sinned. So there will always be pros and cons to each era, but I heartily agree that there are distractions and evil today just like centuries ago. Praise the Lord He is good to us even in this modern age just as He was to christians before us! Thank you for this reminder Shannon!

    In Christ,

  2. So true. I've been thinking for some time about writing an article of my own on this subject. The "good, old days" had so many drawbacks that we don't remember, partly because we weren't there and also because people tend to remember the good things more than the bad.

    I have used an outhouse in a snowstorm. I can tell you it is no fun! (Yes, we visited in a home that had no inside toilet, only a bathtub and sink inside. This was "way back" in the early 1980s!)

    As regarding the modern distractions, I personally think that God has made the Bible so much more readily available to us because He foreknew that these times were coming. The scriptures are not chained to a pulpit in a church building somewhere, they are not hidden in scrolls in the home or on the person of the pastor of our churches. They are in our hands, on our own tables - easily accessible, ready at any time to be opened and consumed. What an amazing blessing and miracle that is. The distractions have perhaps increased in some ways, but the Lord went before and made His word abundantly more available. We are without excuse.

    Add to that the availability of recordings of god-honoring music, many useful books, telephones, cell phones, and computers through which we may edify and be edified, and well...hopefully you get the picture. :-) We need to avail ourselves of what *is* available rather than lamenting because it isn't "the way it used to be"!

    Psalms 31:14-15 But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand...

    Ephesians 5:15-17 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.

  3. Rebecca, I agree wholeheartedly! I do wonder what we would really think if we were suddenly thrust back into the "good" old days?

    Mary Stephens, I thought your comments on the availability of Scripture and edifying resources were spot on! It's hard for me to even imagine not having ready access to the Scripture -- with multiple Bibles in our household and any verse just a few clicks away on the computer, we have come a long way from the Bible chained to the pulpit. Very, very true!


  4. Hi! I've popped in now and then to read your lovely blog and admire your sewing handiwork. I just had to say, this is the most powerful post I have ever read by you. It is so easy to get discouraged by what seems to be happening all around us these days but your post was a much needed reminder that this is nothing new. And yet God is still very good to us! Thank you so much for this timely post! :)

    1. Nanny Y., thanks for your encouragement! It's such a pleasure to have you here, and I'm so glad you found this post helpful!


  5. Shannon, I completely agree. I've fallen into the same trap of thinking that perhaps days gone by were easier, more moral, etc etc. But I've realised that the yearning for a better time has been put in us by God - but it is the yearning for him. And there is a place and a time that will fulfil all those longings - heaven..

  6. Oh, and I also agree with what you say about the veneer of respectability of certain eras that may have lulled people to trust in their own respectability and religion to take them to heaven. In one sense, certainly in here in Europe, we are living in a post-christian age and are almost taking the gospel to un-reached peoples - and as you say, perhaps this is a blessing in some ways.

  7. Great post. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for this thought provoking post.

  9. I know it has been awhile since you posted this, but I haven't read your blog in awhile. I just had to tell you how much this post touched my heart. I have always lamented the fact that I was born in the wrong era. I guess I was wrong and God has a reason for me being in this place and time and we all need to be reminded of that.


I'd love to hear your thoughts! Thank you so much for stopping by!