Just Say No to Nostalgia

Don’t say, “Why were the former days better than these?” since it is not wise of you to ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10; CSB)

“Normal isn’t coming back, but Jesus is,” read the sign outside my pastor friend’s church. My gut reaction was mixed. Can’t we have normal AND Jesus?

I confess that I often pine for the good ol’ days. The normal days. I gaze at 2019 and before through a pair of golden lenses, too easily forgetting that those days had troubles of their own.

In the verse quoted above, the author of Ecclesiastes addresses the folly and futility of living in the past; of assuming that the old days were always better than these days, or that the world is much worse than it used to be.

To be clear, the author isn’t saying that there aren’t good days and bad days. Further in this same chapter, he refers to the “day of prosperity” and the “day of adversity” (v. 14). We experience these sorts of days and seasons in our own lives and read about them in the Bible. The Jewish exiles in Babylon, for example, were right to think back with longing on the days of living in the Promised Land and worshipping the Lord in Zion (Psalm 137:1).

The author of Ecclesiastes isn’t saying that it’s foolish to fondly remember the good times of the past. Rather, he’s saying that it’s unwise to dwell in the past, to have an unrealistic view of the past, or to constantly compare the present to the past. In short, while nostalgia might be a pleasant place to visit, it’s a foolish place to stay.

Nostalgia is a kind of homesickness; a sentimental yearning for what once was. It must have begun with Adam, as he remembered his Paradise lost and compared it to the sin-cursed world he now inhabited.  This homesickness has continued ever since, in every human heart, in one form or another. The good but fleeting moments of this life delight and then elude us. Long gone, they can haunt us. They tell us that we were made for something more, something better, something permanent. They whisper to us of our need for a Saviour who can bring us home.

Under the influence of nostalgia’s cheap wine, we can be tempted to idolize or idealize the past, or worse, to ignore the present. And that might be the most dangerous temptation of nostalgia—that it keeps us from living for the Lord right now, loving others in this moment, and looking forward in faith to what God has promised in the future.

The author of Ecclesiastes is right. It’s foolish to live in the past. It’s probably also unwise to obsess over “getting back to normal.” Because, as the sign said, normal isn’t coming back. But Jesus is. And that is something to look forward to!

Pastor Jonathan Kroeker