Romanticizing The Past

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our fleshly attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. We must be careful what we ask for, and rather learn to seek only what he desires to give.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 11:4-6

The foreign rabble within the Israelite community began to crave other food, and again the children of Israel started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The children of Israel were a couple of years into their wilderness experience, and God was developing their faith by testing their trust. And on several occasions, the people failed the test. This was just such an occasion. The “rabble” among them—likely a non-Israelite group that followed them out of Egypt, for whatever reason—were a constant source of trouble. In this case, they influenced God’s people to complain about his provision by romanticizing “all the wonderful provisions” they so enjoyed back in Egypt. Of course, they wouldn’t have left Egypt if those were truly the good old days. But undisciplined desires began to taint their memories, and they started longing for a return to the “pleasures” of Egypt, which of course, were sinful pleasures.

Is sin pleasurable? You bet it is—that’s why it works so well. Hebrews 11 refers to this very thing: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

To be sure, sin is attractive. There is a certain “value in its treasures”, as we see in the case of Moses’ rejection of sin’s seasonal satisfaction. There is an enjoyment of the “pleasures of sin for a season”: the buzz from that alcoholic drink, the high from that illicit drug, the thrill of crossing that sexual boundary, the emotional release of that angry, hurtful tirade, the general freedom of that life controlled by sinful desires rather than by the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is pleasure in sin—for a season.

But seasons end and sinful pleasures are fleeting: they are short-lived, and they are progressively destructive to everything that God intends for us: a healthy body, harmonious relationships, and a holy life. And sinful pleasures dull our sense of reality—we begin to romanticize what we once had. In that sense, when we long for the good old days where sin reigned in our lives, we need to snap ourselves back into reality and admit that the good old days weren’t actually that good; in truth, they were the bad old days. Listen to how author Larry Osborn talks about this very thing:

Almost every generation looks back and wonders what happened to the “good old days.” It’s human nature. The evils of the past tend to fade from memory, while the injustices and evils of the present stand out in bold relief. Perhaps that is why Solomon wrote, “Do not say ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Whenever we are tempted to ask, “why were the old days better than these?”, that should be a red alert that we need to do as Moses did and compare the short-lived benefits of sin with the long-term reward of trusting God. When we fail to trust in God’s promise to fully meet our needs and satisfy our desires, we will end up romanticizing the past’s sketchy track record of fully pleasuring our heart’s desire. The things we once depended on for satisfaction and security, the pleasurable sensations that money or power or attention or relationships or possessions or food or sex produces, apart from God, are what C.S. Lewis referred to as the “sweet poison of the false infinite.” These are what we might call substitute sacreds—the surrogates we desperately use to fill the emptiness of our dissatisfied lives.

In reality, however, no substitute sacred ever fulfills what it so brazenly promises. Only the one true Sacred can do that! St. Augustine said, “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God…All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.” God longs for us to come trustingly to him with our needy souls so he can graciously and abundantly and unendingly satisfy our deepest longings and most powerful passions—in his way and in his time. As Augustine said, God has created us for himself, and we will only find satisfaction when we find our satisfaction in him.

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our self-centered attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. Psalm 106:13-15 offers this sad and sobering commentary on our undisciplined desires:

The children of Israel soon forgot God’s works;
They did not wait for His counsel,
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
And tested God in the desert.
So He gave them their request,
But sent leanness into their soul.

To get what we want, yet end up with leanness in our souls—what a sad possibility. Let the Israelites in Numbers 11 be a continual cautionary tale that we must be careful what we ask for. Rather, we must learn to seek only what God desires to give and be grateful for what he has already graciously provided.

Going Deeper With God: Read and reflect on Psalm 106, then do two things: First repent of your fleshly desires and cry out to God to lead you not into temptation. Second, practice gratitude for what you’ve got. Doing that will cause you to focus on the rewards of following God and reject the false infinites of what you left behind in your life of sin.

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