More about hard issues

The Good Old Days

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
—Ecclesiastes 7:10, NIV

Life was easy in the fifties. Most of the shows on television were about cowboys. The good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats and it was easy to tell them apart. The good guys never did bad things, and the bad guys never did good things. The television shows that were not about cowboys were about happy, loving families, such as Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet, or they were about superheroes, such as Superman, who was always on the side of right and his personal faults never tripped him up.

But those days were not really so good, you only remember them that way. What you forget as you reminisce about the fifties is the terror of that decade. We began with the hysteria of the red scare and ended it terrified of the bomb. On the weekend, we went to the local school to see the latest fallout shelters, which if we had enough money, we could bury in our backyards so that we could survive the nuclear holocaust. No matter what town it was, everyone in it knew that they were the number one target on the Russians’ list. We stared up into the nighttime sky in fear and awe at Sputnik, the first artificial satellite ever to orbit the earth, and in our terror we flocked to the theaters to watch movies about oppressive invaders from outer space. In those days, a black family traveling cross-country to visit relatives had to sleep in the car, because ‘decent’ motels didn’t take colored people. Instead of eating in restaurants, they had to satisfy themselves with a specially designated take-out window, and they had to plan their route to avoid towns where the ‘decent folk’ didn’t like colored people driving through.

Later we discovered that the actors who portrayed our domestic ideals on the television tube did not live them in their daily lives. They suffered divorce and went through child custody battles; they had drug problems, and George Reeves, who was the 1950’s Superman, ended his life with a gun to his head. Many of the he-men whose manliness we admired at the movies turned out to have been gay all along. The ‘decency’ that separated black and white in the fifties is now an unspeakable moral failing. Nothing turned out to be what it seemed at the time! Not only were our pleasures illusions, our terrors were as well, and as for the Communist Bloc we feared so much—it evaporated like a bad dream at the dawn of a new day.

The sixties weren’t any better. We began that decade with the assassination of the president of the United States and ended it with the Viet Nam war and filled the middle with racial strife. The seventies contained the inglorious end to the Viet Nam war, the resignation of a president, and war veterans who were denied the glory we promised them.

I could go on and on, but my point is clear: the good old days aren’t good, they are just old. And so Ecclesiastes tells us not to ask why the old days were better than these, because such a question arises, not from wisdom, but from amnesia.

Would you like to go back to the fifties in a time machine? I don’t think so. Even though you know how things turned out, it isn’t a place most of us would like to live. Back then, hearing aids were the size of paperback books, there were no computers, television was only black and white, and there was no air conditioning in private homes. There was no Heimlich maneuver, no CPR, no open-heart surgery, and no effective treatment for epilepsy, depressive disorders, or migraine headaches. Remember whiplash? There were no headrests, seat belts, or airbags in cars, and most of the good highways had not yet been built.

So why do we forget the trials, tribulations, and troubles of former times and remember them fondly? Why do we yearn to return to a time in which we lived in terror day and night?

We remember them as the good old days, because we know how they turned out. We have anxiety about the present age, because we do not know how things will turn out, and in being anxious, we reveal our lack of faith.

Jesus says,

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
—John 16:33b, NIV

And John says:

There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
—1 John 4:18, NIV

We fear the present age, because we do not know how it will turn out. We fear, because we do not believe that Jesus has truly overcome the world, and we fear because we do not love Him or trust Him as we ought.

But if we truly believe that Jesus could die upon a cross and raise Himself up from the dead on the third day; if we truly believe that on the fortieth day He ascended into heaven and sits, alive and well, at the right hand of God, who is His Father, then why do we fear the present age? When we ride a roller coaster, we scream in terror in the middle, but beneath that terror we trust the management, that no true harm will come to us. If we can trust the management of a rickety roller-coaster ride, why can we not trust the Management of the Universe? When will we stop hiring false teachers to encourage our fears and to magnify our anxieties? We know from past experience that our fears are baseless and our anxieties are pointless. We know from past experience that the false teachers who encourage us to be fearful and anxious are working for their own profit and will end their own careers in scandal. Why then do we follow them and not trust Jesus? If Jesus rising from the dead is not enough of a sign for us, what will it take to shake us from our anxieties? What will it take to get us to stop luxuriating in our fear?

For if Jesus can raise Himself from the dead, and if He promises to do the same at the end of the age for anyone who trusts Him, and if you truly trust Him, then there is no terror you cannot face. For even if you are defeated and cast down and betrayed and backstabbed and slandered—and even if you die and everyone forgets you—Jesus will give you triumph over all the terrors of this life. And looking back on these days, as you look back on the days of old, you will see that your terrors had no substance, your anxieties had no cause, and your trust was misplaced.

Why do you wait until the Last Day to enjoy this peace, which you now possess?