The Illusion of the "Good Old Days"
THE ILLUSION OF THE “GOOD OLD DAYS”
“Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:7-10).
Life can teach us much if we are prepared to learn. Life is transitory and filled with adversity. The transitory nature of life should not cause us to fail to exercise prudence in learning the best way to live life.
The author of Ecclesiastes, referred to as the Preacher, offers wise counsel for life, especially in the face of adversity. We should be impressed with the abiding relevance and timeliness of divine wisdom in our own time with its challenges. The experience of adversity and oppression can sometimes cause us to act foolishly. Much better if we learn from it.
One of the inherent dangers in adversity is the temptation to compromise one’s integrity. “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart” (v. 7). How tragic when one who is otherwise prudent allows his judgment to become so distorted! Extreme circumstances may cause us to act out of despair or carelessness. The result is to make a fool of oneself.
Adversity calls for patience, but in such times our pride often gets in the way. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (v. 8). The reproof of the wise is at first hurtful, but in the end proves beneficial—“better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man” (v. 5). It is also true that patience is needed, especially in tough times. Rather than giving up or compromising our integrity at the first sign of trouble, it is better to follow through to the conclusion of the matter.
Impatience often leads to uncontrolled anger. “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (v. 9). Bitterness and resentment too often come when we do not deal with the adverse circumstances of life with wisdom and patience.
Our impatience with our present circumstances sometimes causes us to glorify the past. Rather than living in the reality of the present and facing its challenges with wisdom, patience, and courage, we too often resort to an unrealistic sort of nostalgia. We long for “the good old days,” convinced that they were better. One problem with this kind of thinking is that it weakens our resolve to deal with today’s problems realistically and soberly. It is also mistaken because it is, in reality, an illusion. It usually overlooks the fact that every age has its own share of evils—injustice, immorality, oppression, and adversity.
Of course, in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher has already warned about this fallacy. He has declared that one age is very much like another. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9).
In every age, such circumstances tend to deceive people to think how unfair and cruel life is, and as a result, to compromise their commitment to principles of truth and righteousness that never change. And this unrealistic thinking, the Preacher says, is “not from wisdom.”