The Framework of History (1)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field…” Matthew 13.24
The vanity of secularism
Living in a secular world is very much like what Solomon described as life under the sun: It’s all about I, me, mine, and ends up vanity of vanities, and feeding on the wind.
Our increasingly secular generation, having, as it supposes, broken free of the shackles of religion, touts advances in human freedom and flourishing as its aim and achievement. Ancient diseases are being eradicated. The world is becoming a global village as the Internet, free trade, and educational improvements create new opportunities for people everywhere. Science and technology hold unlimited promise for solving the problems that plague us, and even for improving the species. Governments everywhere are becoming more progressive, and more devoted to achieving worldwide comity.
Some seemingly intractable concerns remain, of course – climate change, racism, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, environmental pollution, and the lingering threat of religious fundamentalism – but these will be overcome in time, the secularist confidently believes.
And it is his belief – his religious worldview – that fuels the secularist’s vision, confidence, and investment of resources and energy in pursuit of the satisfaction of the self. Far from having escaped the confines of religion, our secular generation has merely redefined the terms of faith, and has done so narrowly, trusting only in the resources of reason and self-interest.
But in all this, again to recall Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun. Our secular generation is but the latest incarnation of the human tendency to be gods unto themselves. Such folly has been common to men in all ages; secularism is only the latest manifestation of the pagan revolt from God.
As such, the emergence of secularism has not caught God off guard; nor does it threaten His eternal plan. The more we know about history, the more Christians can be confident that, outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, God’s plan for the ages is unfolding right on course.
Pin ball history
Human beings are creatures of history. That is, unlike other creatures, people have a sense of history. For most people, perhaps, history is a dusty, irrelevant subject that does not require serious attention on their parts. Consider a few typical responses of people reflecting on their own experience in history: “My life is out of control!” “I just can’t seem to get a break!” “I don’t know what’s happening here or where it’s all going.” “How should I know? I couldn’t tell you what I’m going to be doing next week, must less a year from now.” “Why must you always bring up the past?” “After all, tomorrow is another day.” “Seize the day!”
Many people live like pin balls; at some point, they were shot into the game of life, and now they are wholly controlled by whatever wall or post or bumper or gate they happen to crash into or pass through. They want to score big in life, but mostly they merely careen across the game board, trying to rack up as many points as possible, and hoping someone or something will be on the flippers as they head toward the black hole at life’s end, to keep them in the game of life a little longer. No sense of direction, little control over circumstances and events, and little if any lasting results to show for their efforts.
This is not the way Jesus intends that His people should live.
A defining parable
Jesus sketched out the framework of history, so that we could understand the times, where history is headed, and how we should conduct ourselves. The parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13.24-30, 36-43) is one of Jesus’ most defining teachings. It takes into its scope the whole world and all its people. It outlines the course of history from Jesus’ own day to the day of judgment. It explains why evil and strife persist all over the world. It emphasizes the proper way to think about our times. And it suggests how we, as Jesus’ followers, should be investing our time, talents, and energies until He returns.
As such, the parable of the wheat and the tares provides a framework for living that allows us to understand the times as Jesus does, and to know what we must do to line up with His ruleat the right hand of God.
Why did Jesus tell this parable? Certainly, He intended His followers to embrace this framework, discern their place within it, and comport themselves at all times to realize the promise of this parable. However, it’s clear the followers of Christ today have not grasped the framework outlined in this parable. In many ways, the Church today has given up on history, and has ceded the world to those who are committed to an under-the-sun agenda.
Either we are living according to Jesus’ understanding of the times, or we are living at cross-purposes to the cosmic plan of Christ. Many Christians, content with a gospel adjusted to suit their own sense of wellbeing, and pursuing lifestyles admixed with secular thinking and worldly ways, do not realize that they are actually impeding the objectives Jesus has set for His Church in these times before His coming.
We will not understand the times in which we live, nor what we should do in seeking the Kingdom in those times, until we embrace the larger framework of history as our Lord explained and is directing it.
1. Does history matter? Is some understanding of history important for understanding the times in which we live? Explain.
2. Do you agree that Christians today have by and large neglected history and ceded the world to secularists? Explain.
3. What is your present understanding of the framework of history? Where is history going? What is your role in that?
Next steps – Preparation: Let’s see what we can find out about how Christians understand history. Talk with some Christian friends about their sense of history. Do they agree that an understanding of history is important for understanding the times and knowing what we should be doing?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.