Walking Through The Pages of History
An important area for us to consider as believers is to understand how we can interact with history in a biblical manner for the glory of God. Examining the lives of believers in the past can be helpful and encouraging for us while living in our own moment. We can even look at those who lived thousands of years ago in the early days of the Bible, learning many valuable lessons from their examples. Through the pages of history, one can travel back into the ancient world seeing the power of the Roman Empire. Then again, you could visit John Bunyan’s prison cell, stopping by to see what life was like for him in that trial. You could go back in time to engage the sermons of the First Great Awakening led by George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards. You could almost hear Hugh Latimer exclaiming “Play the Man” to Nicholas Ridley as they perished in the flames. A visit to London during the era of Spurgeon fighting against liberalism by proclaiming the true Gospel would most certainly be worth the time. A trip to Wittenberg 500-years ago would afford you the chance to hear the banging of the hammer Luther used to nail his world-renown 95-theses.
Standing on one side are all of the courageous moments, spectacular scenes, and daring triumphs, yet, on the other, we see real failings in the lives of mortal humanity. You can go and see distinct theologians fighting for the truth one minute, then adopting precarious views the next. Alongside the grand palaces of the Roman Empire lies the gladiator arena flowing with the blood of the martyrs. David’s palace contains not only the kingly splendor of nobility, but also the rooftop where his lustful intentions began to take root. In history’s pages, we find not only Peter’s courageous death as a martyr, but also his threefold denial of Christ. What are we as Christians to make of this reality? How do we handle the fact that many who took heroic stands also sinned greatly? What does the Scripture say about evaluating such matters?
Scripture’s Account of History
One of the incredible aspects of the Bible is that it not only gives us doctrinal truth, but also historical narrative. It doesn’t merely tell us that God will be with His people, the Scripture also tells the story of God’s work in the lives of His people. However, in giving this account, the Bible always communicates the truthfulness of the situation. We get to see the faithfulness of Noah in building the ark. He was a righteous man who sought to follow God. Later in the account, we come across his drunkenness and shame (Genesis 9:18-29). The Scripture handles these accounts honestly. It speaks to the way Noah was used powerfully by God, but also to his falling short as a sinner. In other words, the Scripture is not afraid to tell the good and the bad.
Coming to the closing chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses speaks the words of a song to the people. In Deuteronomy 32:7, we read where he says:
“Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.” -Deuteronomy 32:7
The people were told to keep history in their remembrance, to enquire into the past that they might learn valuable lessons. It is no accident we see the Bible handling history in the way that it does. God is a God of truth, and so that is why we see the astounding moments, as well as the ones of human failure which are discussed in the Bible. We can, and must, learn from the success and failures of those in our past. It is right for us to see and celebrate their triumphs in life, while mourning the sins they committed and the devastating consequences which came as a result. Yet, a humble heart seeks to not only see failures in these men and women, but also apply these lessons to our own lives. To see how easy it is to momentarily turn our own way instead of obeying God’s commands. Humility dictates we understand that except for God’s grace, we would commit the same mistakes. We do not glance over failings of the past, nor do we hide them, instead we communicate the truth and evaluate all things, including history, with the bright light of Scripture.
“Do Unto Others” and History
Christ commanded His followers saying, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).” There is no doubt we must consider this principle when analyzing history. We are discussing the accounts of men and women who were real and needed God’s grace just as we. If they were Christians, then they sought the glory of God, even while having blind spots. It should be our objective to evaluate those of the past like we would want those of our future to analyze us once we are gone. That means we must lay out the facts, and form our thoughts with charity and clarity grounded in a biblical worldview.
We can fall into multiple ditches when we evaluate history. On one side, we can glorify everything someone ever did casting them as a perfect individual. This approach fails to remember there was but One perfect who ever walked this earth, and His name is Jesus Christ. Then again, we could fall prey to only giving the distressing side of the story, only discussing the sins a person committed and not talking about any good actions they may have taken. Yet another failure seeks to cast aside history as something not worthy of the time, by doing so we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. A biblical approach to history seeks to tell the truth, communicate the facts, learn with a heart of humility, and apply the standard of “do unto others” even to those who were alive before we were born. It grounds every bit of this analysis upon the foundation of Scripture. This method of historical evaluation glorifies God and allows us to profit from walking through the halls of history with a clear vision to see what has happened before our time. May we take this approach praising God for His work in the past looking forward to what He will do in the future while striving to be faithful in the present!