God firmly establishes that the way He was working before isn’t exactly how He’s working in the present. He’s asking people to behold (look) and perceive (understand) what He is doing today.
“You should work for God!”
“No! We’re supposed to rest in him!”
“Your teen years are meant to be enjoyed!”
“No! Your teen years are preparation for adult responsibility.”
“We should pray for people who are suffering!”
“No! We’re supposed to do things for people who are suffering!”
Since you’re reading this online, I’m sure you’ve been exposed to this tiring, aggravating, and frustrating kind of argument. It’s called a false dichotomy or false dilemma. Usually it has two sides fighting louder and louder trying to make their point, with neither side acknowledging or listening to the other. Meanwhile, any non-anxious observer can see that there is no need to choose between the two. “Why not both?” as the popular meme asks.
One of the most common genres of internet arguments that love to feature false dilemmas is the classic young versus old argument.
“Children nowadays are so spoiled unlike my generation.”
“The generations before mine were so irresponsible as to get the world to where it is today.”
The false dilemma here is the assumption that what’s best for everyone moving forward is to choose between generations and to make them fight each other. This is not only stupid and ultimately unhelpful for society. It’s also not how our God does things. Our God is the God of the Old and the New.
God makes this point very clearly and beautifully in Isaiah 43.
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick . . .
This is a callback to the Old. It’s a retelling of one of the greatest miracles in all of the Bible, one of the most signficant events in the entire history of Israel: the crossing of the Red Sea and their deliverance from slavery. This was meant to cause God’s people to be thankful for that time. Everyone hearing this prophecy would have recognized the memory of the glory days, which is what makes the next verses more surprising.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
“Don’t remember the former things? Don’t remember the things of old? But God, you were the one who brought it up!” If we rephrase, it’s like He’s saying, “The God of the Old things—the spectacular, amazing things that brought you to where you are today—is telling you now to stop thinking of those things and consider the New thing He is doing now. Can you see it?”
In these four verses, God firmly establishes that the way He was working before isn’t exactly how He’s working in the present. In the past, He made dry ground appear in the sea. But in verse 19, He reverses the model and now a way is made in the wilderness and it’s water that appears in the desert. He cannot be put into a box because He is the God of the Old and the New. Any person who only emphasizes one at the expense of the other has fallen into the trap of the false dilemma. We do this when we idolize tradition or idolize trends.
Idolizing trends sounds like an obsession with the most trending news cycles, issues, and celebrity gossip. There’s a fascination with what the most social media savvy personalities and churches are doing online, without as much regard for their soundness or faithfulness. It means thinking that the church is woefully behind and the past is unnecessary baggage to be jettisoned.
This is not good because God was moving in the past. Instead of throwing it away, we must ask Him to give it meaning and resources for us to move forward.
Idolizing tradition sounds like constantly glorifying the old days. It would mean thinking and acting like the best thing for the church of today would be to go back to the practices of a past time. For people from Every Nation Philippines, it would sound like 1984 in U-Belt was the only time when the Holy Spirit moved and what you and your campus ministry today need is to do things exactly the way they were done back then.
This is not good because the Holy Spirit is doing something fresh today. We must not put God in a box of our own making based entirely on what’s been done before.
Our God cannot be limited by people’s attempts to capture Him in neat theological descriptions or well-documented ministry practices. Yes, we hold to orthodox theology. Yes, we walk in alignment with the true body of Christ across the world and throughout history. But even within that span, there is so much more that we have yet to discover about how God is moving in our time.
God isn’t looking for people who will say they’ve memorized the right words, they’re following the right protocol, or they’ve repeated the right patterns. No, He’s asking people to behold (look) and perceive (understand). The ones who can look to the past with gratitude and look at the present and the future with faith are going to experience an amazing ride as they follow the God of the Old and of the New.
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