Before You Write Off History...
What word or statement frustrates you? Perhaps it is when someone makes up a word, such as “irregardless.” Maybe it is when the wrong word is inserted into a phrase, such as “for all intensive purposes” (instead of “intents and purposes”). Personally, the line that sets my teeth on edge is when someone states, “(S)He changed history.” This is typically spoken as an accolade for someone who has had a monumental impact on a cause or nation; however, changing history is impossible. The whole premise of history is the study of things already accomplished and the people who accomplished them; thus, one can make history, but one cannot change it.
In the current season of discontent, there is much discussion about the past. Should statues of those with notable moral flaws be toppled? Should roads and military bases named in honor of historical figures be renamed if the honorees were involved in dishonorable activities? While most everyone has an opinion on these matters, the purpose of this article is not to address the question one way or the other; its purpose is to explore how God wants His people to not only view the past, but also the future.
Having taught history for most of my adult life, another phrase that cuts to the core is when someone says, “I hate history.” Usually the one uttering such a statement views the study of history as a listing of dates, battles, names, etc., with no real understanding of how these facts culminated to produce major changes in the world that helped shape our present reality. For these haters, there is no relevance to what now fills the pages of history books. While one might be excused for such an attitude in secular matters, the Christian who “hates history” could find problems with the Bible. In fairness, this is not typically the case for most people of God; those who profess hatred of history rarely equate the Bible with their hatred. Still, God has chosen the recording of history for a purpose, so consider what is gained from the study of biblical history:
- God’s power is shown in action. In Psalm 119, the psalmist states, “I will meditate on your wondrous works” (78b). God has recorded His wondrous works for a reason. When one reads of creation, the Red sea parted, the sick healed, and the dead raised to life, the power of God is on display. Following the psalmist’s lead, our meditations on these things will help us to remember the power of the God we serve. If He had the power to work then, He most certainly has the power to work now.
- The lives of the faithful provide worthy examples. If the age of YouTube has proven anything, it is that people learn by example. The website is filled with numerous videos on a plethora of topics that not only feature someone explaining how to perform a task but showing how to do it. In a far superior manner, the Bible demonstrates how to live for God by recording the lives of people who displayed righteousness. Hebrews 11 is a good example of this. While those included in this chapter on faith did not always get it right, there were times in their lives where they demonstrated what it takes to stand with God. These vignettes of righteous acts show modern readers that right can be chosen over wrong and that hard choices in the present lead to tremendous promise for the future. A Christian does well to spend time and meditation in biblical character studies. Faithful saints such as Abraham, Ruth, Josiah, and Mary provide keen insight into how to live for God.
- The lives of the unfaithful provide guidance. Important lessons are also learned from those who chose not to obey the Lord. The sin of Adam and Eve, the wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel, and the betrayal of Judas demonstrate the direction the people of God must avoid. Their unworthy examples can prevent the repetition of mistakes. Even unfaithful times in the lives of godly people are helpful. It is a reminder that, indeed, no one is perfect and one’s guard must never be let down.
- The plan of salvation demonstrates God’s love. The Hebrew writer opens his epistle by stating, “Long ago, at many times and many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world” (1:1). The Bible explains the history of salvation; and, as the Hebrew writer notes, how God’s grand plan culminated in the coming of the Son. The long journey of salvation’s story is testimony of how much God wants to save.
- A study of the past demonstrates that we have a future. Interestingly, the Bible both begins and ends with a picture of paradise. Studying the reason God created man illustrates God’s desired plan for man’s future. That ancient plan demonstrates what lies in store for His people. What could have been in the Garden of Eden will come to fruition in Heaven. The future for every child of God is partnership with Him.
Debates about statues and road names will come and go; however, a Christian’s love for God’s sacred history must never be written off. May each child of God commit to a faithful study of the past that the Creator has meticulously recorded. May each learn the lessons of the past that pave the way for a bright future with our ageless God. Remember that while we cannot change history, by God’s grace we can change our future!