History That Means Something

The newest issue of The Economist begins with an article on history’s practical uses for contemporary mankind. In seeking some unifying principle for humanity, the writer posits the possibility of using past events to bring people together and inspire progress. As the piece says:

“When nothing seems to make sense, history becomes the supreme discipline. Knowing who you are and where you came from matters. The best way to harness the past demolishes prejudice and opens horizons. A proper sense of history helps you grasp that progress depends on facing up to hard choices. Sometimes it can inspire, too. Fifty years ago Apollo 8 took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. On December 24th it captured a photograph of Earth, a half-shrouded blue-white planet, seemingly united.”[1]

“Earthrise”; public domain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg

  History has frequently been appropriated by various demagogues seeking to bolster their social engineering agendas. Nazism and Communism were notorious for ideologically motivated revisionism. Modern politicians and educational systems similarly cherry-pick the parts of the past that support their policies. Like other areas, post-modernism avers that “truth” is malleable and is unavoidably manipulated by people’s personal feelings and senses. History, according to this view, is inalterably linked to one’s perspective and is foundational to one’s worldview.

Worth A Thousand Words

  Interestingly, The Economist cites the famous photo of planet earth, “Earthrise,” as an epoch-making event in modern history. Some hold that this celebrated image is “. . . clearly the most important photograph ever made.”[2] It is iconic because it shows a transcendent view of our home-world: mankind slipping the surly bonds of earth and gazing back from outer space’s exalted perch. The problem with this view is that it is decidedly man-centered. Looking back on earth from above is a deeply profound novelty in human experience, but to God it is exceedingly small and commonplace. The prophet Isaiah shows this: “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” (Isaiah 40:22.) The Creator is infinitely greater than this planet – or all of the galaxies stacked one upon another, for that matter. He always looks down on this globe (Psalm 14:1.)

  Although this planet and its inhabitants are miniscule in comparison with God Most High, He is still committed to a relationship with them (Psalm 8.) The foundation of these plans unfolded in one era in particular, as Galatians 4:4-5 explains: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” One historian notes: “‘In the fulness of the time,’ when the fairest flowers of science and art had withered, and the world was on the verge of despair, the Virgin’s Son was born to heal the infirmities of mankind. Christ entered a dying world as the author of a new and imperishable life.”[3]  As 1 Timothy 1:15 says: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” The eternal Son of God willingly entered history in the form of a man – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14.)

  He dealt with sin, the greatest human problem in history, by dying as a sacrifice on the cross. His redemption payment to liberate us from the guilt and judgment that our sins deserve was made by shedding His own blood (Eph. 1:7.) His perfect life was given in place of guilty people like us (1 Pet. 3:18.) Why? Because “. . . God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16.) Three days after the crucifixion, He rose from the dead, demonstrating His finished sacrificial work and His triumph over sin and its consequences. What is more, He lives forever, offering eternal life to those who turn from their sin to simply trust in Him as their Lord and Savior. To not receive Him is to remain under God’s just sentence of judgment (John 3:36); if one leaves this life in that condition they will be eternally lost in the tormenting outer darkness of the Lake of fire (Mark 9:42-50; Rev. 20:11-15; 22:11.)

Peace On Earth

  Someday peace will come to the earth and people will be truly united, as The Economist and many others hope. But it will not come about by marshalling history in a parade of anthropocentric images. Fallen man will not be the agent of universal harmony and love in some human engineered Aquarian age. Only the Risen Man – the Last Adam – will reconcile the creation to the Creator (1 Cor. 15:20-28.) Isaiah provides a picture of the glorious age to come, when unity will flow from the knowledge of the Lord:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2–4.)

A later prophet adds:

No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:34.)

  Unity and peace will only occur when we know the Lord, who made and redeemed His creation. For eternity, we shall gratefully serve the God who saved us by His grace. The history of this redemption is the one that counts. It is the only story that can transform lives and lead to eternal life. What is more, it is the momentous past that demands our response in the present, which in turn determines our future. The Christ of history wants a relationship with each one of us (John 1:12.) Receive Him today!

[1] “The uses of nostalgia: How to get the best from an outbreak of reminiscence,” The Economist, December 22, 2018, p. 11.

[2] National Geography photographer, Brian Skerry, quoted in Nadia Drake, “We saw earth rise over the moon in 1968. It changed everything,” 12/21/18, on the National Geographic website; electronic ed. accessed on 12/24/18 here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/12/earthrise-apollo-8-photo-at-50-how-it-changed-the-world/; the article goes on to explain that Skerry “. . . likens the image to humanity seeing itself in a mirror for the first time.”

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, ed. David Schley Schaff. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 89.

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