That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
“Things are different now. People back then were more gullible, did not know any better, and believed strange things. We have a much better understanding of the way things work than people did in the past.”
How many times have we heard statements like the above– or thought them ourselves? Whereas generations before us tended to think that previous generations were better than they, these days people do the opposite. Since we have developed technologically and have greater scientific understanding we presume to understand all of reality better than our forebears.
But what if this presumption is mere conceit? While we want to believe that we understand things better than our ancestors did, do we really have a better handle on life than those who came before us? In short, has humanity really made any progress?
It is true that we have a better understanding of the way that the universe and our little corner of it works. We have made many advancements in technology that have increased the quality and duration of life for many people.
In so doing, however, we now presume to understand how everything works. Technology can end life and harm life as quickly as it can better life and extend life. Ultimately, the challenges that mankind has experienced for generations–the reason for existence, the prevalence of evil, attempting to control the desires of the flesh–have been no better answered now than in the past. If anything, the challenges have deepened over time!
The Preacher is right: there is nothing really new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). While we might have different pieces of technology, and may understand some things our ancestors did not, we suffer from many of the same temptations and challenges as they did (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). Some temptations and challenges might be different, but they are no less pressing or difficult!
There is a reason why so much of what is written in times before us resonates to this day: even though technology may be different, we share in the same human experience as those who have come before us. Therefore, we should not so easily brush aside the wisdom and experience preserved for us in the Scriptures, assuming that somehow we “know better” today. In reality, we do not!
Why am I here? What is life about? What is going to happen to me? Why do so many people suffer? Why am I always tempted to do things I know I should not do? These are all questions that no piece of technology or scientific advancement can answer. Yet we can find a way forward with these questions when we explore the Scriptures of God, and through them know how to live for today and for eternity (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let us keep “progress” in context, remembering that human nature is the same today as it has always been, and be willing to learn from God!
Ethan R. Longhenry