Do you ever miss “the good old days” or feel like life was better in the past? Do you miss the times when you were a child, and life felt simpler? Do you read about history, maybe about ages hundreds or thousands of years ago, and feel like times were better or more noble? You’re not alone in having these feelings. However, nostalgia is a dangerous and unwise longing in our hearts. Consider what Solomon, the wisest man on earth, had to say about this:
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. – Ecclesiastes 7:10
Why? Why is this unwise? Does this mean that we shouldn’t remember anything fondly? That we aren’t allowed to reminisce? Are our very memories a problem? I believe that these are honest questions, and the answer is not complicated. The reality is that there is a war going on over what, or who, we choose to worship. Does your longing for pastimes consume your thoughts? Are you afraid of the present or future? In the presence of Jesus, who makes all things new, why do you believe that the old days are better? These questions help drive us towards understanding why the Bible teaches us that nostalgic longing is unwise, yet remembering older days full of grace or sin is good. Consider these passages:
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. – Psalm 107:8
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered. – 1 Chronicles 16:12
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12
And furthermore, Paul specifically divides the sad nostalgic longing Solomon warns us about, with a Godly grief:
Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
The Last Question
Now, what does this all have to do with the last question in the Bible? Considering the fact that Revelation gives us prophesies of the end times, this is the last question that mankind can come up with. Imagine generations of wisdom and knowledge, the entirety of human history behind us. The nostalgia must be at its peak! And what does mankind manage to say?
“Was there ever a city like this great city?” – Revelation 18:18
This is the last question in the Bible! The last question mankind can come up with! The city they’re asking about must be important, right? It must be a pretty great city! No. They’re talking about Babylon. And what is Babylon known for?
The name written on her forehead was a mystery:
Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.
I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. – Revelation 17:5-6
The last question mankind can come up with is full of nostalgia for a city that embodies all wickedness. This is the danger of nostalgia. Today, when companies or institutions collapse or disappear, do people often look back and ask the same question? Do people who got rich off of schemes and treachery, or even just ordinary employment through these companies, look back in sadness?
When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. – Revelation 18:9
The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore—cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves. – Revelation 18:11-13
Today, when banks collapse and there’s great disturbances in the economy and trade, do you hear this spoken?
They will say, “The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.”
The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn. – Revelation 18:14-15
I find it both sad and fitting that the last question in the entire Bible is mankind reminiscing about the city of Babylon, which represents all persecution, wickedness, worship of money, slavery, and all sin. It’s a shame that the last question isn’t “were we wrong this whole time?” or “should we start listening to the one who has the power to destroy Babylon?” Of course the question surrounds feelings of worldly grief over the most wicked institution on earth. But this nostalgia can only come when the old things are gone, and this is the key to how we, as Christians, can respond.
A Practical Application
Babylon was prophesied to be destroyed. The only people who would say “was there ever a city like this great city?” are the ones who never understood this:
“Then heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for out of the north destroyers will attack her,” declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 51:48
Why is that? This prophesy says that heaven and earth will shout for joy over the destruction of Babylon, that is, the destruction of the seat of man’s wickedness. Who will shout for joy? Not the merchants, not the traders of slaves, not the kings of the earth who committed adultery with sin. Who looks at the past with joy?
“Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.” – Revelation 18:20
The people of God, the apostles, and the prophets! Christians should look upon the past, our sinful lives, the destruction of our Babylons with joy! This is because God is making something new.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:18-19
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5
In addition to this call to joy for Christians, instead of a nostalgic longing, we can return to Solomon’s original advice on the matter. He continues his lesson about how this worldly grief is unwise, with a challenge for us when we’re most vulnerable to nostalgia: when the present time isn’t going so well.
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.
Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future. – Ecclesiastes 7:10-14
This may seem like a grim reality, but the realization that God has made all things for their own purposes, including the past that we often idolize, helps us to begin reframing our lives around what God has done, and is doing. In the past, we were dead to our sin, but Jesus has made us alive and transforms us. When we look to the past, we should have joy in seeing what God has done for us, and how much he has blessed us and shown us grace in the midst of our sin. When the Babylons in our lives are starting to crumble, get out, and don’t look back!
Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
“‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. – Revelation 18:4-5
The voice quotes Jeremiah:
Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the LORD. – Jeremiah 51:45
We shouldn’t be asking the last question in the Bible. We should be looking at the past with joy, and we should be running for our lives towards the only one who can save us!
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2