"Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?'
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."
- Ecclesiastes 7:10
Remember when things were, well, better? We often hear people talking about the wonder of yesteryear. For some, this is the smell of grandma's freshly baked bread or the slight cherry tobacco aroma of grandpa's beard. For others, it was a time when there was less crime and more neighbors who were friendly and caring. Or perhaps back in those days when kids were more well behaved and more respectful to their parents.
Christians think this way about matters of faith, too. Some bemoan the present state of worship music, longing for "better" times when the church sang the hymns they knew as youth. Or perhaps they long for the days when all the church men wore stylish suits and all the ladies wore pretty dresses and even prettier hats. You hear people say "well, my generation was a generation of prayer", or "the church used to be more reverent for God when I was growing up."
For others, they long for a past when our country was "better" and "more Christian". After all, our great-grandparents didn't have to deal with moral issues such as the acceptance of gay marriage, abortion, or rampant (and public) sexualization of culture. Most people went to church on Sundays, and men didn't cuss in front of women, children, or the preacher.
Still others have enshrined ages of the past as being the doctrinal standard. I know entire churches that insist on using the 1689 Baptist Confession as their official church statement of faith. I know others for whom the era of Jerry Falwell & D. James Kennedy marks the the epitome of biblical faithfulness.
The real problem here is twofold: First, we are specifically commanded in Scripture not to speak this way. Second, it simply isn't true. The past was never what we try to make it out to be.
Ecclesiastes 7:10a offers us a command: "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?'" I admit I am not the most brilliant individual who ever graced a pulpit. But I can recognize a command when I see one. Solomon is not even offering us a suggestion: "Hey, it might be a good idea not to say...etc". He is straight to the point: "Do not say". Simply put, Christians are not allowed to talk this way. God doesn't want his people to have their gaze stuck backwards, because it distracts us from our current spiritual assignment. Paul reminds us that we are to "make the most of every opportunity right now" (Eph 5:16), because time is short and we are surrounded by much evil. A soldier on the battlefield is no good if, instead of taking the fight to the enemy, he sits in the grass moaning about how great life was before the battle. When we demonize the present and idealize the past, we are in disobedience to the command of our King.
But Scripture also gives a reason for this command. Frankly, the idealization of the past is based on a lie. In Ecclesiastes 7:10b, Solomon continues his thought: "For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." Believing that former days were better is foolish. Utterly foolish. It is based on a faulty presupposition and an inadequate understanding of sin.
Nostalgia is a seductive liar. The church of your past was not more holy than the church of today. The America of the past was not more "Christian" than the America of today. Sin isn't more of a problem today than it was a couple of generations ago. Satan was just as much the "ruler of this world" in 1850 as he is in 2014.
The problem with such thinking is that is a ploy of the devil. Such thoughts creep into our minds, robbing us of the thing we are supposed to be yearning for. The Devil would LOVE for you to spend all your effort trying to recapture some spiritual experience of the past instead of living as one destined for Heaven. But the apostle Paul is emphatic: "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way" (Phil 3:13b-15a). The Gospel forbids us to look backward to some mythical golden era of our past, but to look forward to Heaven, that "city whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).
I love much of my past. There were some spiritual experiences that greatly shaped me, and I praise God for them. But the past is just that. The past. It is't heaven, far from it, and not an ounce of me ever wishes to return to some bygone era. Not in a million years. It simply isn't the direction my King is calling me. Soldiers of Christ aren't supposed to retreat, but press forward.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, forget what is behind. Press forward.