CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

What a Waste!

Apr 29, 2019

The world is full of things being wasted. A young person is cut down in the prime of life because of bad choices with drug use for example, and we speak of a wasted life. A fave sports teams may have squandered a large lead and end up losing the game. Plenty of perfectly good food gets thrown out by supermarkets each and every day.

A student may have spent years on a higher degree, only to end up flipping burgers to make ends meet. ‘What a waste of time that was’ many might say. One’s body can even waste away because of crippling disease or just old age. There is no end to things being squandered or wasted.

In this life waste and degeneration are perennial problems. Scientists are certainly aware of this, and we have things like the Second Law of Thermodynamics that speak to this. As one science site puts it, “While quantity remains the same (First Law), the quality of matter/energy deteriorates gradually over time.”

Biblically speaking this is all the result of the Fall. We now live in a fallen world, where things are not the way they were intended to be. Sin has horrific implications, and waste is now a massive part of the world we live in. We all experience this on a regular basis.

The Bible of course often speaks about waste, as in wasted opportunities, wasted gifts, wasted talents, wasted time, wasted lives, etc. Many things are wasted because of our bad choices. The classic biblical story on this concerns the prodigal son who “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13).

Some waste however may not directly be due to anyone’s fault in particular. Insurance companies used to call such things “acts of God”. Was the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral just some accident – or something more sinister? When a parent accidentally runs over a young child, that too is a terrible waste, but ultimately still the result of living in a fallen world.

I raise all this here for various reasons, in part because of a rockumentary I watched a bit of last night on television. It was about Jimi Hendrix and his death in 1970 at the age of 27. Many consider him to be the greatest rock guitarist of all time, and mourn his loss. I too used to really enjoy his music (OK, I still do), and I often wonder how he would have progressed had he not died so early on in life.

If he is not your cup of tea and you prefer other types of music, one also thinks of an amazing musical genius like Mozart who died at the age of 35. And Christian musicians are not immune from an early death. Think of Keith Green who died when he was just 28 years of age.

Watching the doco on Hendrix last night reminded me of what a strange fish I must be. You see, I hate waste. Always have. It is not just about mourning the premature death of gifted musicians. I also mourned when I learned about the fire at Notre Dame. I mourn when I lose something of value, such as a book of mine!

I don’t think I am a hoarder, but I usually dislike throwing things away. I do not like to see things wasted. If I am cleaning up the pots and pans at night, I will scrape out any bits of food. I might even scoop up the remaining grains of rice in a pan (either eating them or giving them to the dogs). I just can’t stand to see things going to waste.

Hmm, where did all this come from? Undoubtedly my parents were the main source of this. Like so many other Americans their age, they went through the Great Depression. They knew all about scarcity and lack. They knew full well the vital importance of not wasting anything.

And those habits of frugality and thrift stayed with them all their lives. They must have passed that down to me even in their very genes! I too dislike waste of any kind. So living in a fallen world where waste is everywhere can make things hard on a guy like me! Maybe some of you are like that as well.

But this is where Christian hope comes in. The good news of the gospel is that Christ came to redeem us from sin and to reverse the effects of the Fall. True, that restoration will not fully happen in this life, but certainly will in the next. As Peter said of Christ in Acts 3:21: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”

Indeed, we have many great biblical promises about this reversal of fortune. Joel 2 is a classic example of this. In it we read about an army of locusts destroying the land (vv. 1-11); a call to repentance (12-17); the word of the Lord (18-27); and lastly, the promised Day of the Lord (28-32).

The key passage is of course verse 25: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Or as the KJV memorably puts it, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” What was lost will somehow be restored.

The great Puritan commentator Matthew Henry ties in this verse with the story of the prodigal son: “Though, in justice, he distrained upon them, and did them no wrong, yet, in compassion, he makes restitution; as the father of the prodigal, upon his return, made up all he had lost by his sin and folly, and took him into his family, as in his former estate.”

How exactly we are to understand this promise is an ongoing discussion. Is it only a yet-to-come restoration? Was it fulfilled long ago in Old Testament times? Was it fulfilled in the first coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit (Peter quotes the last quarter of Joel 2 in Acts 2:17-21)? Or is it a combination of past, present and future fulfilments?

How ever we answer such questions, it is nonetheless a great word of encouragement. Things that have been lost or wasted may yet be restored. And this is true of not just God’s people as a whole, but of individual believers. We will find much that we thought was gone brought back, because of God’s great grace – if not in this life, then in the next.

Sure, some things will be irretrievably lost. We will never get them back again. But other things will be recovered, restored, renewed and redeemed. God is in the business of restoring the years that the locusts have taken away. Again, that is terrific news.

It sure is for me. I have often referred to the title of Malcom Muggeridge’s autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time. I constantly feel that way about my own life. How much of my time has been wasted? How many years have been spent on trivial pursuits and useless activities?

And I refer to my years as a Christian, not just my early years as a non-Christian. I know how much wasted time I am guilty of as a believer. I have squandered so much. Thus I am so very thankful for God’s patience with me, and the marvellous grace that he shows me.

Our God is in the business of waste management. He can overturn loss, recover what has gone off, and recycle waste. For those like me who so dislike all forms of waste and ruin, that is good news indeed. And even if waste does not bother you all that much, it is still wonderful news, since we all have lost so much because of sin.

Let me conclude with two things: a story and a quote. The story has to do with a nearby house that was damaged by fire a few months ago. It seems an elderly woman owned this nice house, but was seldom there, and the fire was caused by some lousy teen arsonist.

I pass by it often. The damaged house still stands, surrounded by a temporary wire fence. I only once saw a car outside of it – family members presumably gathering any salvageable items and treasures. I just returned from a walk with my dogs, and again reflected on this burned-out home. Two months on and nothing has happened.

It has not been levelled to make way for a new house, nor has any remodelling taken place. Each new rainfall adds more to the damaged interior. It is as if the elderly woman who owns the place is so devastated by the loss that she may be immobilised. Perhaps the waste of this nice home is just too much for her, and she can’t bring herself to do anything about it. So it just sits there. She may just be overwhelmed by all the loss and waste.

And consider some words by James Montgomery Boice who comments on the Joel 2:25 passage, and how God can restore what he has taken away:

We cannot undo what is done. Sin is sin, and the effects of sin often continue for long periods. But God can restore what the locusts have eaten. Opportunities may have been lost, but God can give new and even better opportunities. Friends may have been alienated and driven away, but God can give new friends and even restore many of the former ones. God can break the power of sin and restore a personal holiness and joy that would not have been dreamed of in the rebellion.

Are you one whose life has been destroyed by the locusts of sin? Has sin stripped your life of every green thing, so that it seems a spiritual desert? If so, you need to return to the One who alone can make life grow fruitful again. Only God can restore the years that have been eaten away.

[1679 words]

11 Responses to What a Waste!

  • Is anything truly wasted when God can use everything we see as a waste, towards His glory. In our feeble human eyes we struggle to see how the death of a loved one or the destruction of a place of worship can be anything other than a waste but God has a way of revealing over time that it all adds to His Glory. Now if you want to talk about “waste” and musicians then Buddy Holly comes to mind. His older brother has said on numerous occasions that Buddy was going to record some Gospel albums. I’ve often wondered whether our enemy targets certain talented people whom have made it known they are going to give all Glory to God.

  • Thanks Carlos. Yes plenty of questions remain unanswered in the here and now. But in the next life we will see things far more clearly indeed.

  • When I look back on my life, I don’t want to feel as though I’ve wasted it.

  • I know that feeling Bill, having lived on a 1965 budget of 5 Pounds ($10) a week for food and transport for wife and child living in a family holiday shack. It didn’t hurt us. We matured.

  • Thank you Bill. That’s a doctrine I hadn’t really grasped. I often regret aspects of the past. To think they may be redeemed is a great comfort. Meanwhile I’m grateful for a moderately long life with some spare time to do some helpful things.

  • Thank you for a wonderful message, Bill, because it is great “food for thought.” I often think members of the baby-boomer generation in the U.S. had their lives squandered by the mistakes and bad choices of their parents, the World War II generation. The post-war years were a time of prosperity, innovation, and industrial expansion, and the WWII generation behaved as if the prosperity should continue forever. Then, in the 1960-70s era they fell for the patriotic appeals about the Viet Nam war and acted as if they were sending their sons to a church picnic where nothing could go wrong. Much to everyone’s shock, dealing with the morbid philosophy and horrors of a heathen, Asian culture had a profoundly negative effect on the young men. At the same time, the general morality and the American standard of living and industry went downhill, and things did not improve much after the Viet Nam war ended. All the parents could do was complain that their young adult children were not the “go-getters” the WWII generation had been. From my perspective, the WWII generation simply had been in the right place at the right time and their “success” was not the result of their being smart or ambitious. Their constant criticism of the baby-boomers had a very bad effect, and most of my peers never have recovered from the down-turn in American morals or the fact that major industries left the U.S., leaving baby-boomers few options for jobs that pay a living wage. Many baby-boomers grew philosophic and decided to go into service-type jobs that actually help people and that have given themselves a sense of purpose and contentment. Yes, there is a lot of waste in this world, and to overcome this sad fact, people must learn to make lemonade of the lemons they encounter throughout life.

  • Thanks Bill,
    I think of the Kinglake National Park that we (in our wisdom), locked up for preservation. Sure, for 59 years out of say, 60 it is nice to admire but we are not in communion with nature’s longer term cycles. The fuel built up and inevitably burnt on the hottest day. It took a lot of human lives, houses and human constructions. Nature has its own way of managing the build up of “waste” in Australia. We will no doubt have a Royal Commission again after National Park mis-management. Kinglake and Marysville were sacrifices on the alter of Green ideology.

  • I was bullied at school for nearly two years. That may not seem long, but it will be half my senior school life. Those two years were wasted years not only for me but my family too as my mom and dad didn’t have a happy daughter and my lil sis didn’t have her big sis to play with. I had no one to turn to. If I had told my mom and she went school, and that didn’t stop the bullies it would have been even worse. I had no friends I could turn to, as the bullied do not have friends that are why they are bullied. The only relief I had from the daily misery was school holidays. The day before returning, to school I would search my home for something to try to kill myself with. It is very hard actually to kill yourself. I worried if I did kill myself my mom would blame herself and my dad and mom would argue and get divorced, and my lil sis wouldn’t have a dad except for weekends. I didn’t even have God, as no one talked about things like that.

    My school work suffered, and sometimes I wouldn’t even go to school, I would walk along the canal footpath, and I often thought, could I make it seem like I drowned accidentally, but I knew even if I died accidentally my mom and dad would be devastated. The day walking along that canal bank seemed like a week.

    I had a lovely English teacher she has left our school now sadly. She asked me what the problem was. I obviously couldn’t tell her. She even asked me if my dad was doing things that made me uncomfortable. I shook my head as I thought if I said something one of the bullies would know. She said I know a girl the year above who never stops talking and you too would get on well as she does enough talking for the both of you. That girl many of you know of.

    What the teacher couldn’t get out of me the unnamed blond did in about a minute. Everything is great now. I love going to school, and the only people waiting for me outside the school gates are what our newest convert call ‘The Bible Girls’. We often pray on that spot for any kids who are being bullied and my prayer is that the bullied knows that God is just a ‘Please Help Away’.
    Molly.

  • Joel 2:25 has been a great comfort and, for that matter, promise to me from the Lord. It is so easy to lapse into depression and overbearing regret about the many mistakes we’ve made and all those wasted years.

    Also, the Apostle Paul’s battle with the memories of his past persecution of Christians, and how he clung to God’s promise and word that “My grace is sufficient for thee,” has been a sustaining encouragement and hope in my life. (2 Cor. 12:9). True, that verse is not specifically meant to answer our regrets, but rather, whatever the thorn was in Paul’s side, but it still has a strong and blessed bearing on fighting the agony our guilt may be laid upon us at times by the enemy of our souls.

  • Dear Bill , many similarities with your loathe of waste and of mine the same. My wife & I just returned from the funeral of a dear friend, Our age, so quite poignant. The eulogy told us of her life. If any of us were questioned seriously, we would see ‘waste’ in our lives. I believe Our Maker knows how we need to be moulded, He forgives, restores & renews us. Our journey is complete when He is the Lord of that journey. My prayer is that all of your readers find that completeness.
    God Bless you Bill
    Matk Bryant

  • Hi Bill. Just wanted to pick you up on your use of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in relation to the fall. I would caution you on aligning the physics of the second law with sin or the fall. In order for the universe to actually operate, it requires energy, e.g., stars to give heat and light as our sun does, photsynthesis to generate oxygen and sequestor carbon as it grows plants, for human life processes to actually operate as in the breakdown and digestion of food, etc… Perhaps this article from CMI may shed further light on the issue? https://creation.com/the-second-law-of-thermodynamics-answers-to-critics

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