A Christian Approach to History
- Tuesday, July 26, 2011
We do not need history that favors Christianity or that unobjectively identifies God’s hand in past events. In the book of Kings, we have Elijah’s example. Israel had forgotten God, had turned away to Baal and to desperation in a time of drought—a physical drought, but a spiritual one as well. For the sake of God’s people, that they might see His power and believe, he challenged the prophets of Baal to a holy “duel.” Meet me on a mountain, Elijah said. We will see whose god will respond to his prayers with fire from heaven. Elijah met those prophets on their sacred mountain: he met them on their terms. There were hundreds of them—only one of Elijah. He let them go first. They prayed all day; they cut themselves. No fire came.
When it was Elijah’s turn, he had already tipped the scales in Baal’s favor, but he increased this bias. He took buckets of water—water that was precious in a time of drought, water that itself may have been a miracle—and he poured these on the altar until the rocks, the ground, the sacrifice were all soaked, making even the smallest spark impossible.
And then he prayed. He did not pray for his own ego’s sake, and he did not pray for the sake of convincing Baal’s prophets. He prayed for a miracle, for fire from heaven, so that God’s own people would believe. The fire came. It burned up the sacrifice; it burned up the water; it burned up the very stones of the altar. It burned up the prophets of Baal.
God is big. We work too hard to protect ourselves from “enemies” who might be won by God’s grace and goodness if we were less occupied with telling our side of history fairly. Elijah did the opposite of our present inclination: he biased his situation against himself. And let us never forget who the enemy is: he is neither flesh nor blood nor historian nor atheist nor liberal.
Finally, a Christian approach to history must be hopeful. We must choose to see the best in people while still telling the truth. History has shown us historians who selectively choose unfavorable tales to tell about people groups: they are fascist dictators waiting for their opportunity to seize power.
Jesus told the parable of a good Samaritan, and His story stirred up controversy. I imagine it was much like the controversy a similar story might stir up today. The dominant culture hears a positive story about a minority group, and instead of a good example, they hear criticism of themselves. They assume that the teller is implying that the minority group is all good all the time while the dominant culture is all evil, and they begin to argue. It does not matter if the dominant culture is Jewish or Roman or white: human nature is always defensive.
Jesus’ point was simply that we need to expand our definition of neighbor. My point is that it might be nobler to look for the good in individual races and celebrate those like we celebrate the goodness and victories of our own loved ones.
Our neighbors, according to Jesus, are the very people whose worldviews most offend us. They are the Samaritans who worship on the “wrong” mountain, they are the weak and wounded in the road, and perhaps they are even sometimes liberals who write history textbooks that seem to tell a story we find unfair.
Until recently, I had only thought about my Christian obligation as a parent, to raise and educate my children well. I had only thought about my moral obligation to help the poor, to volunteer, to show patience and love and kindness on the road, at the store. While I knew that my faith must be actively infused into every aspect of my life, a moral responsibility with regard to the telling and hearing of history had not occurred to me.
As I sift through my history options for next year, however, this debt I owe—to love my neighbor as myself, to serve others as if I were serving Christ—has become more and more clearly connected in my mind to our historical approach. History is one more way in which we must lay down our lives, our preferences, our points of view, in order to reveal to our friends, neighbors, and selves, a Savior who knows our suffering.
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