Embracing the New with the wisdom of the Past
(By Andy Pate)—-
“There’s nothing new under the sun,” declared the Preacher of the Old Testament. How insightful. Or, as the well-known philosopher of baseball lore Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” a stumbling saying, funny in its redundancy, but actually quite wise.
Of course, we have to moderate and interpret the “nothing new.” For we do experience newness. Our electronic age has given us phones and computers, for example, that not so many years ago most of us never even imagined possible. And designs, styles, ways of talking and, yes, cultural values and laws—these change as time passes. In fact, the massive amount of change we have known in the first two decades of the 21st century has been overwhelming, probably more extensive than any human beings have ever experienced in a similar time period.
Therein lies the danger. We may change things, like our core values and ideals, without sufficient forethought. We may be so eager to embrace the new that we unknowingly set ourselves on a path to disaster. We may forget once important insights that are useful and applicable in every age.
What the Preacher mainly meant was, I believe, that there is nothing new in the realm of human emotions, feelings and the kinds of problems humans experience, regardless of day and age in which they live. History does repeat itself: people err, people succeed, the unexpected happens, problems once thought solved were not, they just reemerge in a new form.
Our Christian faith embraces and teaches values that work for men, women, boys and girls. We believe, rightly understood, that these values have proven immensely helpful to humans in all times and places in the past, and will continue to prove themselves when applied.
Jesus himself made this point several times in his ministry. When his critics accused him of changing the old law, the Law of Moses, he refused to accept the criticism and declared that he had come “to fulfill the law not to abolish it.”
The purpose of the Law of Moses, inclusive of the Ten Commandments, is to offer rules that work for the best possible life. Dishonoring God, idolatry, dishonoring parents, lying, stealing, committing adultery, coveting—every one of the commandments sets a standard for living well and abundantly on the planet earth.
When further challenged, Jesus again returned to the wisdom of the past and summed up the whole of the Law in two, both of which are found in the Old Testament: The first is: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and the second is like it, love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Our computers and cell phones do not give us the wisdom to live by. They are things, not teachers of the good. Nor can any other modern organization or group of like-minded people presenting itself as something entirely new; these avant-garde advocates are simply wrong. We obtain wisdom by learning from the best of the past and bringing it home.
This I believe.
Dr. Andy Pate is the senior pastor of the First Christian Church of Orange.