I was recently at a Barnes and Noble, relaxing with a crossword puzzle and a black French Roast. I would occasionally glance up and look out over the rows of shelves containing their wealth of words and wisdom. On one such glance I saw a table with books piled up; in the middle was a short sign that read “New in History”.
My first thought was how that’s an oxymoron. History has already happened; there’s nothing new about it. But of course, it referred to history books just newly published.
It reminded me of a phrase or way of thinking we occasionally use to generate fresh interest or enthusiasm in ministry settings: “God is up to something new” or “God is doing a new thing.”
I get it. Like the would-be readers of these newly released history books, an individual or community is experiencing God’s grace in a way that feels refreshingly new and they’re rejoicing in this. That’s only right; it’s good to rejoice. That being said, this idea could benefit from some unpacking.
We like new things. New phones, new clothes, a new car (and its new car smell), starting a new job, ringing in the New Year, turning over a new leaf. Why? Besides the sparkliness it brings, new things make us feel like we’re making progress. Change is good, we say. It moves us forward; so we make a change here, a change there, and soon we feel we’re making a difference. But we also say that the more things change the more they stay the same. That’s the idea that if things keep changing, eventually they come back around to what they were. What good is a rotating merry-go-round of new changes if they inevitably never affect a perpetual newness?
This is why it is best not to measure God’s work by its shininess or sparkle, but by the consistent vitality that has always characterized his goodness. Salvation is the rhythmic goodness of God at work in history, an ancient wonder that constantly renews.
Why might this be important to clarify? As with every new thing, our faith will experience the fervor of a honeymoon phase(s), then transition into a variety of seasons. The newness we felt will eventually feel old, possibly making us feel our faith needs an upgrade; then upgrade after upgrade. It’s a recipe for an anxiety-riddled faith. In such seasons, we will need a foundation reminding us that whether old or new, it is always God’s goodness at work, and that God’s goodness is always enough. In that reminder we find joy, peace, and rest in the God who, through old and new, is always up to something good.