How should Christians think about history?

I want to talk to you today about history. Not the kind of history that you dreaded going to in high school. I want to talk about a Christian attitude and perspective on history.

Right now, in our generation, history is up for grabs. In fact, there’s a state representative in Illinois by the name of Lashawn Ford who has argued that Illinois public schools should abolish history classes across the board because they don’t adequately portray the contributions of certain special interest groups. And he wants all the curriculum to be thrown out. History is to stop being taught across the state of Illinois until new and improved curriculum that meets the standards of a special interest group. Until those standards satisfy that constituency, he doesn’t want us to study history at all in the state of Illinois.

We see the same kind of approach happening right now all across our country with the removal and the destruction of statues. I did a little bit of research and just in the United States over the last few months, more than 150 statues have been removed, most of them by mobs in the middle of riots. We’ve removed statues that relate to the Civil War, statues of Stonewall Jackson, Matthew Fontaine Maury, J.E.B Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis. We’ve removed statues of some of our founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Catholic saints like Junípero Serra have been removed because, even though their history was helping the poor, the indigent, and the native Americans, they don’t satisfy the sensitivities of some group. And so, they are being cancelled.

The most interesting thing I’ve found is that not only is Columbus, Ohio removing the statue of their namesake, Christopher Columbus. But even in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in their section of town called “Little Italy” there is a petition to remove the statue of Columbus and replace that statue with statue of Chef Boyardee, the chef mascot of a can goods company. That tells you how far we’ve fallen from taking our own history seriously that we would replace an explorer and discoverer like Christopher Columbus with a cartoon mascot for Spaghettios.

The question is, “How do Christians respond? What’s the perspective that we should have?” Well, if we look at books like George Orwell’s 1984, the essence of his book was the way that Oceana, the state, the party in that book handled history. They were constantly revising it. They were constantly changing it. His book was a reflection of what he saw in the middle part of the twentieth century when he saw Fascist leaders in Germany argue that, if you tell a lie loud enough and often enough, people will accept it as truth. He saw in Communist Russia under Joseph Stalin that MO perfected as the Stalinists would rewrite people and events completely in and out of history. They would make up events and declare that they had happened. They would erase events and declare that they didn’t happen. Orwell reflected that approach in his book 1984 when he says this, (the motto of the totalitarian party in that book) “Who controls the past controls the future. And who controls the present, controls the past.” That’s what we see today. We are rewriting events and trying to retell history so that the conclusions of history come out as the agenda or ideology that is present today.

That’s just not reserved for totalitarian governments. It’s happening in our own time at all levels of government even for those who are running for President. We remember things differently. We spin the story. We rewrite the events. It’s fascinating to me how often you can see the same event covered by different media outlets and almost have the impression that you’re reading about things that aren’t even related, much less the exact same thing.

Every time we “cancel” our former heroes, every time we throw out our history books, every time we rewrite the past, we are changing culture in order to promote a particular agenda at a moment in time. History changes. And sometimes those descriptions are innocent, they’re innocuous. Sometimes the differences don’t really matter. Other times they’re deadly dangerous. Especially when the standard for what can be acceptable history is left to the sensitivities of an individual. History was meant to be evaluated. If it needs to be changed or rewritten, it has to be done in community not by anarchy and mobs in the streets.

What’s the Christian response? Well, think about the views of history that are common in our lives. There is a Chaotic view of history. That is usually tied to atheism. It flows out of evolution. It’s the idea that nothing in history makes any sense. There’s no point to it all. Everything is random, so it doesn’t matter what you do because you get what you get.

There’s another view of history called the Cyclical view. This is that history repeats itself. It runs in cycles. This is the viewpoint that was held by the ancient Greeks. It is the viewpoint of history today held by Hinduism, the fact that history just comes around and repeats itself.

There is view of history called the Mechanistic view, a mechanical view. That’s the idea of the “Matrix” or “Fate” or something that makes us act in a way over which we have no control.
There is a view of history called the Progressive or Developmental view.  That’s really the challenge that we see today, because the Developmental view of history says that history is understood by the movement of institutions from the simple to the complex. That’s what Karl Marx wrote in his works. He argues that history finds its way to Capitalism. Capitalism inevitably gives way to Socialism. And Socialism finally blossoms into the pentacle of the development of history in what he called Communism.

Well, none of those views of history are acceptable for those who are followers of a Biblical worldview. The Biblical view of history is that it is linear. It has a starting point and it has a finishing point. And there is a purpose to it. There is a meaning to it. We don’t just live in a random chaotic cosmos. There’s a reason why things happen and we can find meaning and significance there. That’s why the Bible is a book of history. It is a book that talks about specific historical events. It gives us dates and times. It includes the names of real historical people. It talks about places. Your Bible in the back has maps.

Unlike some of the cults that are common in our generation, cults often have origin stories that are make believe. There are no maps because there’s no archeological evidence. The Bible is confirmed over and over as a book of real history tied to actual historical people who lived real lives in real places and changed real history. In fact, the Christian view of history is that we are supposed to remember those things.

I was just thinking through the teaching series on Moses that our church is doing on Sunday mornings, and several passages came to mind. In Exodus 3:15 Moses is at the burning bush and God reveals something that Moses didn’t know, a new name, the name Yahweh, “I Am Who I Am.” But as soon as He reveals that name, this is what God says. "Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent Me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.”

God spoke to Moses and identified Himself with real people. He was the God who knew Abraham, the God who knew Isaac, the God who walked and wrestled with Jacob. And He said I’m giving you, Moses, My name, Yahweh, I Am Who I Am. And I want that name to be remembered from generation to generation.

Flip over a few pages. We find the night before the Exodus the Israelites practiced a dinner that would eventually be an annual celebration called the Passover. In Exodus 12:14, speaking about that dinner, it says: "This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the LORD. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.”

In other words, God said this is so significant that I want you to put a marker at this moment in history. And I want you to annually look back at that marker and remember, because history matters. It gives us a context. It gives us a legacy. And it shapes who we are and who we are becoming.

As the children of Israel moved into the “Promised land” decades later under the leadership of Joshua, they crossed the Jordan river. And in Joshua 4: 4-7, Joshua tells them this:
So Joshua summoned the 12 men he had selected from the Israelites, one man for each tribe, and said to them, "Go across to the ark of the LORD your God in the middle of the Jordan. Each of you lift a stone onto his shoulder, one for each of the Israelite tribes, so that this will be a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean to you?' you should tell them, 'The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD's covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan's waters were cut off.' Therefore, these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites."

In other words, God said I want you to have something tangible. I want you to have a statue, if you will, that you can point to and use as a teaching aid to take your children through the history of God’s activity among His people.

In the New Testament we don’t have a physical structure. Jesus left us the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial. It’s an event meant to create memory to draw us to a specific time and place because that shapes who we are.

The Bible instructs us to remember history, both good history and bad history. When we go to the Prophets, we find plenty of places where Israel is reminded of their bad history. God wants us to have those memories, good and bad, so that we can see the acts of God moving humanity to its divinely ordained conclusion. And we can learn from the mistakes and successes both that went before us of how to live the life we should live.

We live in a generation right now where history is being abolished, where statues are being pulled down, all because there is a 21st Century attitude that says, “Everybody in all of human history that’s not as sophisticated, not as woke, not as progressive as us, they all need to be cancelled.”
When we cancel history, we lose the ability to assess not only where we’ve been, but how we can get to where we’re going. I believe that ignorance of the past is Satanic in its origin because memory is a Christian virtue.

Find your children or your grandchildren or your nieces and nephews, and this week tell them a story about who they are based on where they’ve come from. Teach them to remember the past so that we can make sense of the present, and we can move with confidence into the future. That is a Biblical perspective on statues.

This is Truth Currents.
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