The Myth of the Golden Age and Living Life in Chapters

Action! Adventure! Explosions! Intergalactic laser fights! The fate of humanity resting on the courage on one man!

These words do not describe on of my favorite movies, Midnight in Paris. Actually, Midnight in Paris is kind of boring. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway. And then I’m going to tell you about the book of Numbers. (This is going to be the most boring 3 minutes of your life.)

The Myth of the Golden Age

Midnight in Paris follows a Hollywood writer, Gil, struggling to find inspiration for his first novel. Gil travels to France, hoping to capture the essence of 1920’s Paris, which he considers to be the “Golden Age.”

Magically, Gil is transported back to the 1920’s every night, romping around Paris with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Salvador Dali.

The movie’s question is: Is there such a thing as a Golden Age?

The movie’s answer is an emphatic no. There never was a Golden Age of writing, fashion, adventure, romance, or civilization. The Golden Age is a myth. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Dali were mortals, just like Gil. There was no magic in 1920’s Paris. There is magic only in the present, never in the past. 

Basically, this would have been the perfect movie to project on Mount Sinai before the Israelites set out for the Promised Land. More than any people, the Jews had a problem believing the Myth of the Golden Age. They (somehow) longed for the good ol’ days of slavery in Egypt.

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’
— Numbers 11:4-6 (ESV)

Living Life In Chapters

Like Midnight in Paris, Numbers is a story of complaining and warning. As the Israelites depart Mount Sinai for the Promised Land, the nation begins an endless cycle of complaining about the present. The complaining leads to rebellions. The rebellions are followed by judgment and warnings.

In case it’s been a few years since your last trip through Numbers, here is the highlight reel: 

  • The people complain about the food and rebel against God. Plague.
  • Aaron and Miriam complain about Moses’s leadership. Leprosy.
  • The spies give a false report to the people, inciting them to complain about inhabiting the land. Forty years of wandering.
  • The people complain about the forty years of wandering and try to take the land without God’s Presence. Defeat.
  • Korah complains about Moses’ leadership. Sinkhole.
  • The people complain about the food again. Fire serpents.
  • The people intermarry with the Moabites, fully embracing the worship of Baal and the sexually immoral practices inherent in such worship. Mega-Plague.

Numbers is a book of dire warnings against the danger of complaining. As seen in the book of Numbers, complaining about circumstances is fundamentally complaining against God. And complaining against God is rebellion. And rebellion doesn’t end well for anyone in Numbers. (Moses doesn’t even get a pass.)

So my warning to you, dear Internet friend, is to avoid complaining like the plague. (Or avoid it like a fire serpent. Whichever terrifies you more.)

Our culture is saturated with complaining. It is saturated with the Myth of the Golden Age. We obsessively reminisce about the past, not because it was great, but because we are dissatisfied with the present. And to complain about the present is to rebel against God.

One simple way to avoid complaining is to avoid the Myth of the Golden Age.We all have our Golden Ages: college, singleness, a past relationship, life before kids, winning the 3rd-grade spelling bee, that time I used to be skinny, whatever. In all reality, your Golden Age probably wasn’t as great as you remember. And even if it was great,  it’s not fair to compare a great ending to a rocky beginning. 

Stop comparing your life to your (supposed) Golden Age. Commit to loving God and people in your present circumstances. I don’t care how much “fellowship” you had in college or how great your church used to be; commit to loving new, imperfect people in new, imperfect places.

We can avoid the Myth of the Golden Age by living our lives in chapters. The sinful tendency to covet the past and complain about the present stems from not embracing God-given transitions. By embracing the reality of transitions, we begin to see our lives in chapters. One ends, another begins. We stop writing one chapter so we can start writing the next.

The Myth of the Golden Age is that some chapters are better than others. They aren’t. The best chapter is the one that God is currently writing for you. Circumstances might suck, but it’s the best chapter. It’s the only chapter. Don’t try to edit a past chapter at the same time. Otherwise, fire serpents.

You and I have a fresh batch of good works to accomplish in this chapter of our lives. Let’s end the last chapter, stop complaining about this one, and move forward into this Grand Story which God has so graciously written us into. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
— Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)