In a couple of different conversations lately, friends have said, “I just hope the new year is not like last year.” I really get that. A lot of bad experience can be compressed into 365 days: job loss, the breakdown of close relationships, the death of friends or family members, the diagnosis of a serious illness. The list of Bad Experiences can extend ad nauseum. We want to say, “Happy New Year!” and then really hope that something that at least reminds us of happiness is really included in the coming 52 weeks.
I remember a mild shock a few years ago when I was looking closely at the book of Psalms for a potential series of messages to present to our fellowship of Jesus’ followers. I was planning to present one message each week through the year. So, I was looking for about 50 psalms to study and then to expound for our congregation over the coming 12 months. I wanted to select psalms that represented the variety and power of the whole book. It was a spiritually beneficial process.
And so, I came to Psalm 78. This “Maskil of Asaph” as the Hebrew heading reports, begins with a standard Old Covenant theme. That theme is that every generation is called to receive the truth that God has revealed and then pass it on to the next generation. That plan is mapped out in vv. 1-7, but then, the beginning of verse 8 really caught me: “and that they should not be like their fathers,/ a stubborn and rebellious generation,/ a generation whose heart was not steadfast,/ whose spirit was not faithful to God” (v. 8, ESV, my emphasis).
As a New Year statement, Asaph was essentially saying, “Happy New Year! Now don’t follow the example of the past (years), but rather, get it right this time!” The rest of this historical psalm recounts all the ways in which God acted on behalf of His people and how each time they managed to mess it all up. Negative example. “Do not be like that!” The net result of reading through that recap of history is that, as Asaph notes, no matter how bad the human example had been, God was still faithful. Asaph expressed great hopes for the future under the rule of King David (see vv. 67-72), but we know from the rest of the story that even David didn’t get it all right, either.
As I see it, this is the value of a New Year. We are looking ahead to another 365 days in which we can learn to believe in and to trust in and to serve the living God. He has now revealed Himself even more fully through His very Son. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). Even if the past is full of bad examples and hard experience, we still trust in God, Who has demonstrated to us a quality of love that does not require either our perfect faithfulness or that of others (see Romans 5:8). In fact, He is in the business of salvaging life from the wrecking yard of Bad Experience. With that in mind, may God bless this new year before us.