Oh, Those Good Ole Days

July 22, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Vintage Truck 1Recently, the New York Times featured a sanguine article on the value of nostalgia.  In a culture that tends to obsess over the “next big thing,” it turns out that “old small things” are worth remembering and celebrating.  Journalist John Tierney explains:

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.[1]

Of course, nostalgia has not always been so appreciated:

Nostalgia was originally described as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps.

Even now, many psychologists mistake a case of nostalgia – often brought on by a major life transition when people understandably pine for parts of their past – for depression.

Nostalgia, though often underappreciated in our world, held primacy of place in the lives of the ancient Israelites.  In fact, one of the most common commands of the Old Testament is to be nostalgic – to remember:

  • Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deuteronomy 5:15)
  • Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • Remember the wonders [the LORD] has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced. (Psalm 105:5)

Over and over again, the LORD asks His people to remember what He has done for them.  Why?

For the ancient Israelites, remembering was more than taking a nostalgic trip from the present to the past; remembering actually made the past into the present.  Indeed, whenever the Jews celebrated the Passover, they recited the Haggadah, a Hebrew word meaning “telling.”  The Haggadah recounted the mighty acts of the Lord the night He brought them out of their harsh slavery in Egypt.  A key line in the Haggadah read:

In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had left Egypt.  It was not only our ancestors whom the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed from Egypt; rather, He redeemed us, as it is stated: “He brought us out from there, so that He might bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us.”[2]

The Jews believed that when they remembered what God had done, they not only recalled God’s acts in the past, they became the beneficiaries of those acts in the present.  One cannot help but think of the Haggadah that Jesus gave His disciples, also on a Passover night, when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we do not just remember what Jesus did in the past, we receive the benefits of His very body and blood in the present.

For the Christian, nostalgia is a good thing because remembering is a good thing.  But nostalgia is more than nostalgia when it reflects on what God has done in Christ.  For what Christ has done in the past still blesses us – and saves us – in the present.

[1] John Tierney, “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” New York Times (7.8.2013).

[2]Text of the Haggadah,” Eliyahu Touger, trans.

Entry filed under: Devotional Thoughts. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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