Hopeful History

I think American Christians spend very little time considering history. Indeed, I think very few of us know much history; and this may be so for a few readily apparent reasons. One possibility is that history is seen as irrelevant to everyday living, and modern Christians are all about relevancy, relevancy here meaning "how will it help me get through the day". Or perhaps, in our entertainment culture it is considered to be fairly boring, unless of course there are lots of battles which can be easily filmed. On the whole, we talk and teach very little about the development of ideas, of cultures, of how we got where we are today as a church and a society.

I think there may be a less apparent reason though that drives our ignorance, namely fear. Even a casual review of recent history belies the declining history of the church in our culture; though we may hold off through the next election cycle the official acceptance of certain overt practices contrary to our beliefs, it is hard not to see the sinking of our society into barbarity as inevitable. Indeed, not only is our current influence diminished, but it seems that the modern teaching of past history is intent on removing whatever essential influence Christians might have had in the past; the preservation of culture after the fall of Rome, the resistance against Muslim dominance, the political, social and religious reforms of the Reformation, not to mention the American revolution and the abolition of slavery.

And yet God requires us to think of history without fear; to see His hand in it. As the prophet Daniel declared to king Nebuchadnezzar:

"Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding."  Daniel 2:20-21

Likewise, in his paper Professing God In History Class, Harry Van Dyke , a former professor of history at Redeemer college, argues that it is critical to understand and proclaim God's hand in our history. He makes six main points as to what should guide our understanding and teaching of history:

1. To profess God in history class should be a spontaneous activity of everyone who believes in God's sovereignty.

2. A believing reading of history reassures us that nothing happens by chance but everything is directed by the wise and loving hands of our heavenly Father.

3. Most often God's hand in history is hidden; but where it is manifest it should be noted.

4. To profess God in history class is to enrich one's insight into reality, to better prepare students for life, to give voice to faith within the pursuit of learning, and to praise God for his might and wisdom. To muzzle professors of history on this score is to impoverish their teaching, to serve students ill, to smother the voice of faith, and to deny God part of his glory.

5. It is in the constancy of God's order for creation that we find the strongest encouragement to profess God in history class.

6. The most breathtaking act of God in our human world is the Incarnation. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Born of a virgin, not of the will of man, Jesus is the greatest manifestation of God's active presence in history.

I think in times like these, as we face direct challenges to our faith within our culture as well as from out, that we be confident that God acts to shape our destinies, and no forces from without or within can ultimately thwart his purposes, which are ultimately good and loving. One more thought from Professor Van Dyke:

The fact that no ruler or empire has ever achieved world domination, preventing the oppressed from seeking refuge, has been a blessing of God throughout history. A world state that covers the globe is reserved for the end-time, when history will have to be cut short.

In short, no 'Towers of Babel' have succeeded against the power of God. Comforting thoughts when so much news we hear seems to be to the contrary.


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