On History

“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will explain to you.” Deuteronomy 32:7, the Holy Bible

One of the things that have always struck me regarding Scriptures is how raw they were in telling the history of God’s people. No sugarcoating, no playing favorites, no political propaganda; everything was just out in the open. All the strengths and failures of God’s people and their leaders were exposed. Murder, adultery, idolatry, theft, lying – no leader was immune to the transparency of God. Not only that, God also demanded that things be done so as to remember all of this unvarnished past. He knew that in order for his people to have an attitude of gratitude they needed not only to remember the goodness of God, but also the mercy of God despite their failings. It is pretty hard to remain proud if you are constantly aware of your past mistakes and that the universe does not revolve around you. Therein lies the danger of forgetting history – how can we possibly have any hope for the future if we don’t remember what we have accomplished despite ourselves?

The Founding Fathers believed that man had the potential of being incredibly good, but also incredibly evil because they had knowledge of their history. All you have to do is read the Federalist Papers to realize how deep a grasp these men had on history and how it influenced their understanding of good government. As Americans we just don’t learn at that level of history anymore, and this is unfortunate. How can our children possibly have an understanding of how far we have come and how big a miracle it was that our country even came about without such knowledge? Our Founders had an opportunity to start fresh as a new nation, and because they knew their history they were able to access its wisdom without all its baggage.

When the Mayflower landed, the people that disembarked became America’s very first church plant. Fleeing the persecution of England’s state church, they saw themselves as part of a divine appointment, one of stepping stones of history, willing to sacrifice all in the name of God and the freedom to worship as they pleased. They knew from which they came and whom they served, and therefore were not afraid of their future. God’s goodness gave them hope, while his mercy kept them going despite their human failures. Since they knew their history, they had no reason to fear their future.

Americans have forgotten their history; I think this is why so many of us have moved from a giving culture to a gimme culture. When we become so “me-focused” we have a hard time seeing anything bigger than ourselves. When we don’t see ourselves as part of something greater, as part of a bigger story, we lose hope. It is easy to see why the entitlement mentality is growing – without hope there is no reason to sacrifice and strive for something better. Without knowing the past, we can only see the limited humanity and frailty of the present. If we do not teach about the path to greatness that was forged in our history, despite our failures, how can we possibly expect our children to see anything else?  

We must fight the desire to revise our history it in order to fit a particular world view. Like the Scriptures, we must see our entire heritage, both good and bad, so we can both remember the greatness of what we have accomplished and avoid repeating past failures. History, like the truth, never has an agenda.  A nation that does not understand its history will never control its present. But a nation that fears its history will lose its future to those that seek to control it.

According to Dr. Del Tackett, if someone can change our historical context, they can change the way we view our present. My fellow Americans, we must remember our history and not be ashamed of who we are and where we come from. Our country is a testament to how great and good mankind can be despite human weaknesses and failures. Our past successes are what give us the strength to lift ourselves up, but it is our past failures that teach us the humility to lift others up. We should never be afraid of the truth of history. God certainly isn’t.

“A people without a heritage are easily persuaded” Karl Marx (1818-1883), author of the Communist Manifesto

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed –if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’” George Orwell (1903-1950), from his novel 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3

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