Seventy Years

Many long years ago I wrote a short article entitled “The Good Old Days” for our church newsletter. Our pastor refused to publish the article because it painted a dim view of the then current days. I wish to revisit the same theme, but this time approaching the subject by more objectively observing aspects of life at three points of time over the last 70 years:

  • When I was 7 years old
  • When my son Peter was 7 years old
  • My grandson Archie at 7 years old (the present day)

My life at 7:

Life revolved around family, friends and church. There was no television or any other electronic devices for personal enjoyment. Although my parents were not regular attendees at church, they sent my brothers and I to Sunday School.

I walked barefoot to school around one kilometre away, taking shortcuts through the properties of three families that we knew. After school, I roamed the neighbourhood or played in our backyard or on the road. We knew most of the neighbours. I even invited myself to watch “Hawaiian Eye” with a family down the road who were one of the first families to own a TV set. It is interesting to note that after the Feast of the Passover, a twelve-year-old Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem while his parents set off home to Nazareth. They only noticed he was missing after travelling for a whole day.

Each school day we assembled on the parade for the Lord’s Prayer and the National Anthem. At the end of each term, we were given a grade by percentage and a place in the class. Progression to the next year was contingent on satisfactory performance in the current year. Progression from primary to secondary school was contingent on passing a statewide examination set and marked by independent assessors. Likewise for progression from secondary school to the workforce.

I was in a class of 59 students with one teacher and did two subjects, English and Mathematics. There were no teacher aides, playground supervisors, or other personnel dedicated to students. The cane was used by the Principal in cases of significant misbehaviour. I was not personally aware of any suspensions or expulsions from school. There was the odd case of bullying.

My son Peter’s life at 7:

Peter reflects: “When I was a boy, most Mum’s in our neighbourhood stayed at home and looked after their kids. We had Tuckshop every day at school. My kids have it only one day a week because there aren’t enough parents to do it. Throughout my whole school life, I can recall only one child from school ever needing a psychologist. Looking back on my upbringing, I wasn’t a perfect kid, but I did have a mum who was my psychologist. She was a rock at home and created a stable loving environment which enabled us to thrive in all areas of life. She was also a tutor, helping not only her own children but other children as a volunteer at school. She was a nurse, farmer (we grew our own vegies), cook, and cleaner. She gave blood as often as she could, a habit she instilled in me. She was a manufacturer, making a lot of our clothes. She was a hairdresser, mowed the lawn when necessary, and was our security system. She was an aged care worker, looking after my grandparents, and a child care worker looking after her children and friends’ children. She was also an NDIS worker helping the disadvantaged and disabled through our church.”

Peter has reminded us of how far we have moved from the way of life in the Eighties. I will add that “Mum at home looking after the children” was encouraged by policies in place in those days. When my wife Glenda was employed in the early Sixties, her employer told her she would have to retire when she got married. One aspect of that policy was that the young ones leaving school had better opportunities for employment. Socio/economic and political life has radically changed in my seventy-seven years!

My grandson Archie’s life at 7 (present day):

Archie is in a class of 23 with one teacher, a teacher’s aide, and help from parents. Other staff who play a role in his school life are teachers rostered on playground duty and a school chaplain. The whole school assembles each Friday when the Principal addresses the students and hands out awards for the week. There is no reciting of the Lord’s Prayer but the National Anthem is sung. He is currently studying nine subjects and receives one of six assessments on each subject (Very High down to Insufficient Evidence). He and every other student will progress to the next level of education regardless of results.

Discipline in schools today is by way of suspension or expulsion. The use of the cane was abolished in the mid 1990’s. Last year, students in Queensland schools were suspended 83,000 times, including more than 1,000 prep students. In February 2022 the total number of students in Queensland schools was 575,000.

I have sought to present the facts concerning some aspects of life then and now, and I accept that those facts cannot be extrapolated into any meaningful analysis of life then and now for the population as a whole. They simply reflect personal and anecdotal experiences. However, I will confidently state that any statistical measure of the quality of life will show a marked decline in the last seventy years. And I am just as confident that the declension of true religion is the one basic underlying reason for that decline. Seventy years ago, 89% of Australians nominated Christianity as their religion, with 0.26% citing no religion. Our latest Census recorded 43% as Christian and 38.9% as no religion. Societal standards deteriorate in tandem with a deterioration in the influence of the church in society. It has always been the case.

As the people of God readied themselves to enter into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, Moses set before them “life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-18). Tragically the Israelites chose the latter time and time again and suffered accordingly, eventually being carried away captive in foreign pagan lands. Their hardened hearts did not even recognise the very one promised to them through the law and by the prophets. The land that flowed with milk and honey is now a barren desert, and they, as a people, carry the burden of being stigmatized, maligned and persecuted. However, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, there is a portent of God’s never failing redeeming grace in store for his people.

I have reflected on my seventy-seven years, but seriously my life and experiences are like a single breath of wind in the passage of the eons of time. As soon as I start bemoaning the current antagonism against the Christian church and Christians, I remind myself that the church has always been under attack ever since Adam and Eve sinned against God and the flaming sword was placed at the entrance to the garden to guard the tree of life.

As a fellow believer wrote in our church newsletter recently, “God’s light is shining in the darkness of this world, so living faithfully for Christ leaves us vulnerable to ridicule and persecution. We ought not to be surprised by this. We’ll speak differently to others, have different priorities, and spend our time and money differently. When we follow God’s ways, we will be different from the world around us”. In A.M. Renwick’s excellent book “The Story of the Church” he documents horrendous acts against the Lord and his anointed over the centuries which makes our present situation pleasant in comparison.

Every week, just down the road, I hear about the unsearchable riches of Christ from preachers steeped in the wonderful doctrines of grace. In the days of Wesley and Whitefield, faithful followers of Christ had to go far and wide to hear such messages. Renwick recounts “After his conversion, Wesley embarked on that great work of evangelism… Because of his preaching on man’s lost condition, regeneration through the Holy Spirit, and salvation through the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, he found, like Whitefield, that many pulpits were closed to him. There was much ecclesiastical opposition, as well as the opposition of ungodly mobs”.

Although there is a direct link between the state of the church and the state of the nation, it must be acknowledged that even in the best of times when Christianity is driving a positive change in the community, the copybook of the church is blotted time and time again by divisions within, often over secondary or minor issues, The sin of church members gloated over in the public domain also stains the copybook. The church has always had an image problem in the eyes of the world.

In these days when the light of the gospel is dim, we need to be like the men of Issachar “…who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). One thing is certain, there is no place for a reactionary spirit. And there is no place for activism per se, any man-made schemes or programs are doomed to fail. No amount of explaining or debating or defending the Christian faith will quell the rising tide of opposition to us. What is needed is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. We are powerless, but God is all powerful. However, we do have an important part to play, because “Thus says the Lord God: ‘I will also let the house of Israel inquire of me to do this for them (Ezekiel 36:37). Accounts of past revivals often testify to humble beginnings in prayer cells. The need of the hour is earnest and heartfelt prayer. There is no merit in the suggestion that we need to reform ourselves before we pray for revival.

I will conclude on an uplifting note – the transformation of society when God does intervene and pour out his Spirit in great measure. The following account by Sam Storms is of the effects of the Welsh Revival of 1904-6: “During the time of revival the police were left with virtually nothing to do and the courts were empty. Saloons and bars were shut down for lack of business. Public drunkenness was almost non-existent. Old debts, many long forgotten, were paid off in full. Travelling theatrical agencies cancelled their engagements as everyone was in church! Profanity disappeared. It was said that horses everywhere were in complete confusion. They had become accustomed to responding to their master’s profane shouts and kicks and cursing, virtually all of which had disappeared… Relationships were healed and marriages restored”. Let it be so, Lord.

Rob Humphreys