Stability while ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’

At the midpoint of last century George Orwell wrote “1984”, predicting a vastly different world emerging in the following three decades. Orwell’s vision for 1984 wasn’t realised, but great change did overturn much of 1950’s western culture.

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan prophesied the “Change” as an inevitable cultural phenomenon in his 1964 hit song, “The Times They Are A-Changin”.

In 1970 sociologist and futurologist Alvin Toffler wrote his classic book, “Future Shock”, in which he proposed that the rate of change would accelerate. He predicted that the phenomenon of change would even leave people in shock as they struggle to find their feet in a changing world.

In view of Toffler’s prophetic warning take a moment to re-visit the lyrics of Dylan’s 1964 protest cry against that which he and his generation desperately wanted to change. I have made my own observations as to the implications of the song and then quoted from the lyrics.

The current status will be challenged:

“you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone”

Uncertainty prevails:

“And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’.”

There will be a reversal of fortunes:

“For the loser now Will be later to win”

Change must be responded to or else! Old values must be changed.

“For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled”

This is WAR!

“There’s a battle outside And it is ragin’.”

New values prevail, outside your experience:

“And don’t criticize What you can’t understand”

Rebellion is the new rule:

“Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command”

The old is passing away:

“Your old road is Rapidly agin’.”

Bitter confrontation is now in play:

“The line it is drawn The curse it is cast”

Old standards are expiring:

“As the present now Will later be past / The order is Rapidly fadin’.”

A new generation is ready to displace the old:

“The slow one now Will later be fast And the first one now Will later be last”

“For the times they are a-changin’.”

At an anecdotal level we are all aware of change. My mum would scold me at the table with the remark, “My mother would never have let you do that!” Times had changed. The “good old days” are remembered with fondness by many, who recall a safer, more secure and happier time.

So, if we are in Unstable Times is there anything we can do about it? Are we doomed to uncertainty? Or, as Toffler predicts, will we be so assaulted by change that our hearts fail us for fear?

I suggest that it is not change that we need to fear. Diversity has always existed. And much of what we see as change is simply the appearance of that diversity. I enjoy a much wider variety of foods than my parents did. Cross-cultural exposure has opened up a much wider awareness of the choices and styles that can be adopted in life and its processes. Technology advances with a panoply of new gadgets which extend our capabilities. More people are empowered to communicate, learn, be entertained and engage in enterprise than ever before, on a much grander scale.

That kind of change is not a problem for us. There are two experiences of change which are dangerous. One is the increase in evil. When a stable society crumbles into a violent human jungle the change has dramatic and tragic effects for all. However, this is not to say that something “new” has emerged. Rebellion, violence, destruction, theft, murder, immorality and the like have been a part of human history from early times. There is no reason to celebrate the arrival of such things, as Dylan did in the 1960’s

The most significant change, which undergirds the increase of evil in a society, is when the “foundations” are destroyed. Now THAT’S serious change. When moral restraint encouraged by the fear of God is removed from any culture or individual’s life the consequences are evil and ugly, both for the people involved and those they relate to.

King David lamented the situation where the bed-rock foundations of society are removed. In Psalm 11:3 he asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The proven foundations for stable and productive society are not the things which Dylan exalted. Dylan extolled the virtues of rebellion, change, discarding of the old, uncertainty and confrontation. The true foundations, however, are not found in uncertain exploration of the unknown, but in committed grounding upon that which is tried, true and proven.

The Bible is that sure foundation. It has been called “the rock on which our republic rests” and “the groundwork of human freedom”.

Queen Victoria admitted that the Bible was the true foundation for England’s greatness. She is quoted as saying, “That book accounts for the supremacy of England”. An 1863 oil painting by Thomas Jones Barker, of Queen Victoria presenting a Bible to an African leader, is titled, ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’.

United States President George Washington is quoted as saying, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible”. United States President U. S. Grant added, “The Bible is the sheet-anchor of our liberties.” Thomas Huxley is quoted as saying, “The Bible has been the Magna Charta of the poor and oppressed. The human race is not in a position to dispense with it”.

Add to those these further statements of the Bible’s importance.

“It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” (Horace Greeley)

“That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests.” (Andrew Jackson)

(Quotes are drawn from Haley’s Bible Handbook 1965)

Stability in Unstable Times is best achieved by having that “sheet anchor” and “rock” as our foundation. While those around us dissolve into anarchy, deception, rebellion, slavery or the like, there is no reason for change to “shock” us in any way. We know that evil people will do evil things. We know that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth. We know that we will change from one degree of glory to another. We know that we can do exploits. We know that we are in a battle, but that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the victory.

If you fear the future or the shifting sand under our culture, then place your feet on the one who is called the “Rock of our Salvation”. Don’t be tossed about by every wind of doctrine but make firm your commitment to the “more sure word of prophecy” given to us in the Bible.

Change represents “change” and doesn’t have to involve “instability”. Go ahead and keep on changing, enjoy the changes happening around you. Find your sure footing in God and His Word and from that place of stability and strength step out to encounter and change the world for God’s glory.

Endnote: I was once challenged by a disgruntled church member in a suburban church where I was the minister. He accused me of changing in the years I had been there. I readily accepted his charge. I was sure that I had changed and I fully expected to keep on changing. Those changes were the sign that I am alive, but also a sign that I am a Christian being changed by God’s work in my life. The chap didn’t like the direction of my change. But I was absolutely delighted with it. I am pressing on to claim the prize.