A Bitter Present, A Better Past
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
It was around midnight when I decided to reply to a few comments on Facebook before going to bed. 5 minutes later, it had magically turned into 3AM. I had managed to scroll through almost every picture from the last three years. I found myself reminiscing on so many sweet memories, realizing I have so much to thank God for, but with some pictures asking myself, “Why did it seem better then than now?”
This season has posed different challenges for me: body changes and health issues that came with pregnancy, marriage dynamic changes that came with pregnancy, financial changes that came with pregnancy. Basically, the season of pregnancy hasn’t been the easiest for me to accept.
Recently, I felt so overwhelmed by my discontentment and subsequent sin that I stayed awake in hopes of finding and meditating on a passage about God’s unfailing love for me. But as I flipped through my Bible, I landed on this curious exhortation: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecc. 7:10). My gaze stuck on this verse, I couldn’t move until I considered what’s so wrong with me preferring the good ol’ days over currently bleak situations.
First, the heart behind this question, “Why were the good ol’ days so much better than now?” does not come from a place of wisdom. Rather, it comes from contempt. It is from God-directed anger that hates that he would withhold certain blessings this season that he freely gave in the last. It is from the pride of life that essentially tells God, “You are ruling unjustly and unfaithfully. I know a better way, a better plan.” It is from the folly of presumption, the scorning of my gracious and loving Father who portions out both pleasure and pain for me each season with perfect knowledge, goodness, love, and wisdom.
Also, hindsight is not always 20/20. Pleasurable memories of the past have a way of crystallizing in perfect form in our minds. Nostalgia can photoshop past seasons into appearing perfect, allowing me to romanticize their sweetest moments while blocking out any memory of their pains and imperfections. I can easily live in a lie that all things were just as they ought to be in “the former days”, forgetting that I was probably doing at least a bit of the same retrospective complaining even then. The heart is truly deceitful, even in its recollection.
Finally, I must consider where this question leads me: toward a multitude of sin. It reeks of self-pity. “Poor me. I used to be loved by God back then; but now I’ve been forsaken in such-and-such ways.” It reveals a deep sense of entitlement. “I have been good in so many ways. I deserve better than this.” It fosters a blindness to the grace and blessings of the circumstance in which God has me. “There is very little for me to be thankful for here and now.” And this ingratitude only leads to hopeless despair and bitterness, sucking me deeper into myself, and away from loving God and people.
I can then justify all kinds of sin. “I’m not being fairly treated in this season as I was before, so I should take pleasure into my own hands. I must feel the happiness I once felt, so I will pursue it however I must.” Anger to coerce others to give me what I want from them. Sexual sin to replicate the joys of the past. Passivity to avoid any more disappointment. And so on. These sins may seem disconnected from that heart condition: “Why were the former days better than these?” But they were birthed here at the foolish accusation of God’s character cloaked in a seemingly innocent question.
There is a better way offered me in Ecclesiastes. It is found in the book’s transitional passage (7:1-14) that separates two opposing paths: the frustration and futility of my self-sufficient pursuit of purpose (1:1 – 6:12), and the advantage of wisdom rooted in the fear of God (7:15 – 12:7). “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (7:4).
This kind of “mourning” is a honest acknowledgement of my depravity, my human limitations, and my inability to control my circumstances. It is a repentant, transformative mourning that allows my disillusionment from life’s adversities to lead me to a surrender of my will to God and his inscrutable, perfect ways. Only here in the fear of God can I begin to truly steward and enjoy what he portions each season. Only here in this surrender will my heart stop asking, “Why were the former days better than these?” and instead start proclaiming, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6).