confusion central
if you’re here, you are SO lost.

breaking news!

Breaking news: The past is a jerk.

It’s true. We did things then we regret now.  We didn’t do things then that we regret not doing now.  Overall, things were hard then, much as they are now…but we didn’t have the experience and understanding that we do now.  It’s relatively easy to think back over past mistakes and shortcomings and long for the chance to redo them…or, worse yet, to lapse into self-pity and wish that things were now as they were then.  It is difficult not to look back and say that things were better or more desirable just because at the moment, it would seem that we are no longer at that point in time. It’s impossible to remember all the actual details about various dynamics of the situation.  Two expressions are common today.  The first is the admonishment to not use “rose-tinted glasses” when viewing the past or the future, but equally popular is the saying that hindsight is 20/20, or perfect. Which is true?  At the juncture, there are two possible choices.  First, the individual may choose to long for the past, living in memories and lamenting the present situation.  This is a serious form of self-deceit, and not to be taken lightly. But the other is just as bad – the individual can also constantly berate themself for not taking advantage of different opportunities long past and long forgotten by others. A serious look at both extremes is necessary…and an appropriate balance is in order.

Regarding the first…

Ecclesiastes has always struck me as a book of deep gravity and near hopelessness…not the kind of message you would imagine in the Bible.  It seems emotional, dark, almost despairing.  The teacher admits that some things, like hard work and a reward for earnest labor, are gifts from God…but only after he thoroughly dresses down almost everything else as meaningless and empty.  Wisdom, he concludes, is important to find…but very, very difficult to obtain, and if you do find it, who cares?! You die anyway, probably only a matter of years after you discover true wisdom, and everything you’ve worked for all your life goes to someone who may or may not deserve it or really care about it.

There are, however, rays of sunshine in this book.  That’s one of the reasons it is striking: It’s cynical, because life is hard.  It’s realistic – almost too realistic – in the way it describes life, death and the pointless goings-on between cradle and grave.  But it’s so practical and down-to-earth, it’s difficult not to come away with a sense of understanding about the ultimate destination of everyone, wise or foolish.  This knowledge is undoubtedly good to have…although the necessary solemn truths can put a damper on bright idealism.

Depressing as it may seem, there are verses like 7:14.  Here the teacher reminds his readers to remember God’s hand in every time of life.

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other.

Here is a solid truth that optimists and pessimists alike can cling to!  It is almost never difficult to thank and praise God when things are going well.  However, believers are admonished in Thessalonians 5 to thank God all the time, and from the surprising source of the glum book of Ecclesiastes, Christians are given due reason to do so; God has created good and bad times alike and understands his own reasons for doing so, even when those trusting in him do not.  That means that even when it all caves in, those who place their faith in God can continue to grow that faith by not fixating on memories of better times. Returning to the past for comfort and solace in times of difficulty should not be the follower’s approach to handling hard times.  It doesn’t work: Rosy memories tend to lose their sparkle before long, essentially “drying out” and leaving their rememberers grasping for something more – something they have perhaps not properly developed.

A little earlier in the chapter, the teacher strictly instructs his readers not to reminisce with too much passion…

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

Young people seem to hear often the remembrances of their parents.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided that those parents are balanced in their remembering.  But believers are reminded that longing for the past is never a good plan – it is, in fact, unwise, when wisdom should be the chief goal of the saints…begun, as it is, by the fear of God.

Secondly, and just as problematically, people are inclined to regret.  Inherently this is not problematic – no one, I hope, will deny that God can and does use regret powerfully in the lives of the saints.  But – and this is a tremendous exception – human nature is such that regret will become just as much a self-centered indulgence as recalling rosy memories when it comes to the individual past of the believer.  There is much I, personally, regret never having done, and I’m not even yet a legal adult.  This becomes problematic, considering that I (hopefully) have many years left to live.  I am strongly in favor of young people learning to confront their regrets about their near past as they grow, instead of growing up without even thinking about the mistakes they made, only to realize that they now have a multitude of regrets they have never had to deal with before.  This might help – at least a little bit – assuage the growing problem of people who go to great lengths to cover their regret or even just forget their past by developing different addictions.

It is simple enough to throw up one’s hands and admit that wrong was done on one or more parts.  It is not so simple to determine, first and foremost, what could have been done differently and how, exactly, change can be made in the future.  However, if this is done, it becomes simpler to walk away from an unsatisfactory or sad situation not heartbroken, but looking forward to the things that can be learned from each situation…good or bad.

I’ll close with this, because I sense I’m becoming longwinded: It’s comforting to remember in any situation the words of Psalm 9:9 –

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Going back to the way I was is one of my biggest fears…but even if I do, I don’t doubt that God will continue to protect me and be my stronghold. And that is very encouraging…


3 Responses to “breaking news!”

  1. its good to read your words again, and your insight on God’s Word. you bless Him with every word.
    i only say one thing – you don’t need to tell your audience you aren’t a legal adult yet, it may jarring to hear that from the writer because the body of your work seems to come from a much older, wiser person. Let them wonder how old you are; or at least, don’t remind them of it. Its jarring to yourself too to come back and read it later in life.

  2. Mature, indeed. 😉 Political is more like it.

    Coming soon: A version of this you can actually read!!! I really should have proofread this for clarity a lot more stringently than I did… 😦

    Ah, the past…one of my favorite subjects. 😉 I find it interesting already to review things others have written on blogs and even my own work from the past. Growth is especially evident in the fast-changing world of the internet…

  3. jump over and comment on the article i just posted. I want to read your thoughts. (ESP!)

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