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Are You a Chronological Snob?

Many years ago, C.S. Lewis coined the term “chronological snobbery.” He defined it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.” In simple terms, chronological snobbery is looking back on the past and thinking, “Those idiots! What were they thinking?”

Let’s face it, we are all guilty - in some way - of chronological snobbery. We look back on the past and see ourselves as being better, brighter, more intellectual, better informed, more civilized, etc. We forget that we are all those things because we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. They did the hard work – the inventing, the computing, the experimenting, and the living – that got us to where we are today.

Because of some pretty amazing inventions I can travel through the air(!) to far away places. And because of people like Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie and their groundbreaking medical advances, I can reasonably expect to live a long life. Yet its easy to overlook the trials by fire that took place along the way. Some early aviation experiments were by people who thought they could strap wings to their arms and just flap hard enough! (Yes, more than one person tried this). And it wasn’t all that long ago that lobotomies were seen as a miracle cure for mental illness. Say it with me now, “Those idiots! What were they thinking?”

That’s chronological snobbery. We look back on the past and judge people and situations with the knowledge and background we have now as if they had it then.

I find myself fighting against chronological snobbery as we study Judges. It’s never been my favorite book of the Bible. In fact, I get very frustrated when reading it because I can’t help but wonder, “Those idiots! What were they thinking?” But I think it with a judgmental, self-righteous heart. Time and again God saved them and then time and again they rejected Him. Surely I have never turned my back on God. I have never seen Him save me only to turn back to former habits and negative patterns of behavior. I have never… oh wait…

Instead of reading the Scriptures with this mindset that we are somehow better than the cultures and communities of those days simply because we have salvation through Jesus, we need to identify ourselves in the stories. If we’re honest with ourselves, when we read Judges we should be identifying with the nation of Israel that messed up – yet again – and once again needed God’s help. If anything, we should think to ourselves “I’m an idiot! What was I thinking?”

But this is the beautiful truth of this broken record narrative. God’s people were never abandoned by Him. Every time we see their idiocy we see God’s grace in greater measure. Even at the very end of the book when all hope seems lost, God’s grace is there. Because the story didn’t end with Judges, but it continued on all the way through the New Testament and it continues on today in us. The broken record of sin also continues. We see it all around us. But we have the promise that God’s grace is sufficient and one day, in His time, the broken record will cease to play. And when it does, God will not say, “You idiot! What were you thinking?” Instead, for those who trust in Him we can expect to hear, “Welcome home.”

Grace & Peace,