In her latter years my mother would explain to herself an increasingly confusing world with the words, ‘Well, that’s the way they do things these days.’ From free love to microwave ovens this phrase explained it all, ‘I don’t understand it, but that’s the way they do things these days.’
Most people follow the way they do things these days, whoever ‘they’ are. From the clothes we wear to the opinions we hear and retail, from what we choose as entertainment to our eating habits, and ther company we keep we all do things the way they are done these days.
But what if ‘they’ make bad lifestyle choices, express dangerous, destructive opinions? How would we even know those choices were unwise if the way ‘they’ do things is our only measure of what is good, If man is the true measure of man?
I am reminded of the adage, ‘Who marries the spirit of the age will end widowed.’
James, in his letter to Christians scattered across the empire, writes about the trials of many kinds that come and test our faith (Js.1:2-3). He encourages us to have a firm faith, warning against doubt, or we will find ourselves ‘like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind,’ driven by the way things are done these days. Does that sound familiar?
When Jesus spoke of John the Baptist he said, ‘What did you go into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’ (Lk.7:24) A single reed was the personal emblem of Herod, a man blown about by every political wind, driven by the way things are done these days, defined by expediency, nothing to cling to but the latest piece of fashionable flotsam.
What we learn from my mother’s ‘explanation’ of the way things are done these days is that the spirit of the age will pass. The way things are done is not the way they were done in her lifetime, neither is the way things are done today the way things were done in my memory, The way you do things will pass too, another generation will rise and do things their way.
We are mistaken, of course, if we assume the way things were are preferable to the way things are, to imagine a golden age. At the same time it is folly to assume improvement is inevitable with each passing generation. Things can’t only get better, as history teaches us. What can we find to cling to in this process of rising and dying ages, this sea of life that tosses us this way and that?
James reminds us, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him.’ (Js.1:5) The Father, he reminds us, is one ‘who does not change like shifting shadows’ (Js.1:17) and Jesus, we are told, is, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ (Heb.13: 8)
Isaiah reminds us, ‘All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field…The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God will stand forever.’ (Is.40:7-8)
If you’re looking for stability in a changing world look no further than the word of God. It will often make you unpopular with those married to the age, but when this age has died and another rises, you will still be standing faithfully doing things God’s way, while they seek yet another marriage of convenience leading inevitably to another funeral.