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April 15, 2009 / beidson

Are the Good Times Really Over? What Merle Haggard and Nostalgia Can Teach Us About the Gospel

Merle Haggard once asked, “Are the good times really over?”  As much as Mr. Haggard would have wanted to return to a day when silver was our currency and Elvis wasn’t King, itmerle1 was never going to happen.  The fact is well known that the “good ole days” never existed and never will exist.  Every aging generation longs to return to youthfulness, when things were fair and decent and life was good.  But our obsession with nostalgia isn’t really a longing for yesterday.  It is a longing for tomorrow.

Nothing is new, as Solomon once preached.  He should know.  He was the wealthiest and wisest man to ever live, and yet he could not shake off the nagging notion that his quest for novelty was futile, and that man’s existence, unless rooted in the fear and love of God, was destined to tyrannical monotony.  We search and search for new ways to think and live, but inevitably we find ourselves repeating the same mistakes our parents made and coming to the same conclusion: life is futile.  And so we long for yester-year, when things seemed “new” and interesting.  But life is fleeting, and the curse is moving everything toward the grave.

Though we may continually make new discoveries and invent new ways to do things, it still remains that these are not really “new”, just different.  We are still pursuing knowledge, pleasure, love, power, wealth, etc.  But so did all of our ancestors, and so did Solomon, and so did Adam.  We are bound by boredom.  Try as we may, we live in a closed circuit, and though we may do things differently than our parents, we are doing the same things.  Merle was right: we are rollin’ downhill like a snowball headed for hell, and for the life of us, we do not know how to stop.

There is an inherent message in our reminiscence: we cannot return to the Garden.  We have been placed outside of the presence of God and put under a curse and there is no way to enter again on our own.  But it is at this point that we are to turn our eyes to Christ and put our hope in him, believing he has made a way back into the presence of God through the cross.  In his resurrection we are to see not only the reversal of the curse, but the effective end of futility.  We are not doomed to repeat the folly of Adam.  We are not bound to cycles of recurring sin.  We may enter the new covenant, receive new life, and become new creatures.  Jesus gives to us a new heart that sings a new song.  Not that we don’t get bored anymore; this is not the point.  “Abundant life” doesn’t mean “I have come to give you fun.”  But Jesus has come as the end of nostalgia.  In him, we return to the newness we long for.  And when he returns to give us the new heavens and earth, we will finally understand why it was that we always longed for yesterday.

So I’m in agreement with Merle: I want to return to the day when Elvis wasn’t King.  But it’s not because I have a problem with Nixon or microwave ovens.  It’s because we’re all like snowballs headed for hell, and there must be a different kind of King to save us from this.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  He is the Ancient of Days who is coming soon to make all things new.  This is why we long for yesterday, because we really long for the days to come.

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