The Same Old Thing This New Year
One of the great and terrible things about the Bible is that it seems to argue with itself. Granted, the Bible is often made to argue with itself in unhelpful ways by the way people handle it, but still.
I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the fact that the Bible is this conversation of sorts that spans thousands of years. Thousands of years of people trying to figure out God, trying to figure out life.
Proverbs says 2 + 2 = 4; doing good things leads to good things. Then Job comes along and things suddenly aren’t so simple. If Proverbs is theological arithmetic, Job is philosophical calculus. Even Jesus gets in on the game. “Bring a sword along, Peter.” “Don’t use that sword, Peter. And hand me that fella’s ear, will you?” Now that was an expensive (and risky) illustration.
But this is the time of year when the Bible really starts getting on my nerves. Specifically, the epic wrestling match between John the Revelator’s assertion that God “makes all things new” and Solomon the wise king’s claim that “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Well, which is it?
Will this new year bring anything that is actually new? Or will the globe keep spinning as it always has, wars in tow, conflict brewing, people peddling the same old solutions with new marketing?
I guess the question boils down to what kind of person you are. What kind of person do you bring to the conversation? Are you a glass half full or empty kind of gal? A cynical or optimistic guy? I personally have never found these to be very helpful delineations. My answer to the above usually depends on the day, not on some internal wiring that might respond the same every time.
I think that’s the truth of the biblical conversation--that God is redeeming everything, but not yet. At least he isn’t finished yet. And some things will stay the same, maybe as long as you live. Cancer doesn’t seem in a hurry to leave. Terrible things happen to the best of people. And Disney will eventually own everything.
In Revelation, the three horses of war, famine, and disease ride into town and seem to take up residence in the local stable and, as far as I know, they still haven’t left. In that vein, I guess that’s sort of good news. Evil is usually pretty uncreative. It’s done its worst and we’re still here. So that’s not new.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon concludes much the same: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9).
So maybe you’ll make some resolutions, or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll move, or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be better with people or money or your dreams, or maybe you won’t.
Here’s the rub: you can’t fix it. So why not just give up?
Because “new” isn’t something we understand. “New” in Scripture doesn’t mean something completely new or different. It means that something that already exists is being made whole, is being restored, is made like new again. It means that God, if he’s any kind of God at all, takes what is already there and makes it better, shaping it into what it was always meant to be.
That’s the conversation. Not whether or not you are a cynic or an optimist. The temptation is to see only the bad or only the good and not, as someone once said, “The whole shebang.”
To look at the world rightly means to see that everything belongs. Even the worst is a pointer to something new to come. War is the shadow of community, famine is the shadow of the table where all are welcome and have enough, and disease is the shadow of life.
That’s a conversation worth having. One deeper than labels. One deeper than resolutions. God is making all things new in the midst of all the same stuff that has ever happened under the sun, and he’s looking for conversation partners. To the extent we do that is the extent to which we Christians might have something useful to say.
That will be the same every year until the Lord comes again. It’s the same old thing. Over and over. So let’s not pretend that the next year won’t be hard for any number of reasons. It will be. Guaranteed.
But the good news is that something is being molded out of that. Something is becoming what it was always meant to be. We are becoming what we were always meant to be. And we get to be part of a conversation that’s been going on for a long time. That’s what hope looks like, by the way. Like joy with work pants on.
This year will be like the last in many ways, but the good news is that God will be working in the midst of 2019 as much as he was in 2018. That’s nothing new. Thank God.