If you made New Year's resolutions, statistical studies suggest you will eventually break them—if you haven't already!
Mark Twain offered this blunt assessment of New Year's resolutions: "Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever" (Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, January 1863, www.twainquotes.com).
People making New Year's resolutions typically surround themselves with friends and then party with alcohol and public or private fireworks displays. In addition, there are those descending orbs, such as the famous ball in Times Square, where a million people party-in the new year. And not to be forgotten is the symbolic baby swaddled in a sash emblazoned "2007."
In some ways Western civilization is a puzzle. Average citizens either claim that they have no religion or they profess Christianity. Yet, all of their New Year's customs are carryovers from a variety of pagan cultures, including:
- Babylon, where resolutions were made 4000 years ago in an 11-day New Year's festival in the spring.
- Greece, where celebrants of Dionysius, god of wine, carried a baby in a basket (again in the spring) to symbolize the deity's rebirth, as well as fertility.
- Beliefs from many cultures that evil spirits and bad luck can be warded-off with fire.
- Rituals from numerous cultures soliciting the gods for good luck by using the symbolism of circles (orbs) while celebrating with family and friends.
Therefore, people making New Year resolutions are merely following, mostly with no conscious knowledge of such connections, ancient superstitions and customs for seeking supernatural protection, blessings and help. Of course, it's certainly proper to look to the true God for such blessing, but doing so in the convoluted trappings of ancient superstitions ignores His specific advice.
In Deuteronomy 12:29-32 He warned that His people would encounter many cultures whose attempts to ward off evil spirits, celebrate the change of seasons and ask their gods for special favors would seem intriguing to them. He cautioned them not to mistake ritual for reality or sparkle for true spirituality. He specifically commanded them: "You must not do the same for the LORD your God, because every abhorrent thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods ... You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it" (New Revised Standard Version).
Early Christianity knew and believed this, forbidding for several centuries the pagan customs that still color today's New Year's celebrations. (The word pagan is from ancient Latin, meaning, "rural, country dweller" or "from the hill country." Today, it carries the connotation of superstitiously having either many gods or no gods, while not knowing the true God.)
Eventually, about the time Christianity became a state religion, a majority of church bishops took it on themselves to redefine and rename popular pagan customs in ways that enabled what has since become traditional Christianity to make peace with those reluctant converts who refused to abandon their old traditions.
The United Church of God respectfully disagrees with this approach. We take God at His Word, believing that faithful Christians should not capriciously incorporate into their lives the trappings of ancient pagan superstitions.
However, we take seriously the need people have for divine blessings, protection from evil and help in times of extraordinary need. Do you need divine help? Do you have problems such as a troubled marriage, being deeply in debt or struggling with an acute weakness, perhaps an addiction that seriously affects your health? Resolving to address personal problems is wonderful. But such resolve is also a spiritual matter, for it involves the human spirit or will.
Jesus brilliantly captured the difficulty we face making our physical bodies respond to our mind's resolutions: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14:38). Yet, there is a way to tap into divine help.
One priority is to put considerable effort into learning how God defines right from wrong, so we can properly recognize wrong behaviors when we are tempted. But even more importantly, we must reach out to God for His help. This we can do through the marvelous communication method the Bible calls prayer. Jesus advised, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:41).