History matters in the Christian worldview.

Foundations for a Christian Worldview: The Times (5)

Then Noah built an altar to the L
ORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.
While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.” 
Genesis 8.20-22

The importance of history
It matters how the followers of Jesus Christ understand history. 

I recall as a university student, having to take a series of courses on Western history and the history of English literature. Each course told the stories of certain people and events which were to important for their times, and seemed to have some continuing interest for us in our day.

But not for me. I was bored to tears. I attended every class, read the texts (mostly), took copious notes, wrote better-than-acceptable papers, and prepared diligently for and passed all my exams. But I cannot remember one thing of lasting value from any of those courses. My attitude toward them going in was, “I have to do this, so I may as well knuckle down and give it my best shot.” I was not interested in history. I had no appreciation for the importance of certain events, or why I should care about them. And I came away from those courses saying, like the proverbial Presbyterian minister who falls down the staircase, “Well, I’m glad that’s over with.”

I was, you might say, like a good many people today, including a good many Christians: “Who cares what happened in the past? I’m living for the present, man, and trying to pack it with as many interesting experiences as I can. I don’t have time to care about who bludgeoned whom in 1066, or what difference it made that a high school dropout went to Ireland as a missionary in 430 AD.”

Which is too bad, really. Because everything that matters in our faith – all that we believe, envision, aspire to, and cherish – all of this and more is rooted in historical events of the past. Those events came to pass under the sovereign oversight and by the sovereign power of our Three-in-One God, and they unfolded just as they did to demonstrate and confirm His love for His people.

It would be as if you were to say, “I don’t care who my parents were or what they did for a living. And what does it matter that I don’t remember when or whether I graduated from high school or went to college? The date of my wedding anniversary? Who cares about dates and stuff in the past?”

Yeah. Try those on for size sometime.

The fact is, history matters to God, and particular events in history, beginning in the books of Moses, particularly demonstrate the purpose of history, and reveal something of the will of God for history, and for those who, by His grace, are granted temporary occupancy in that arena. 

History as staging ground
History is the staging-ground for the cosmic drama of redemption. While the entire scheme of redemption – all its promises, benchmarks, stages, components, and fulfillment – was worked out in the divine Trinity from eternity past, the events that comprise God’s work of redemption took place in history as we know it. The events of history show us the unfolding plan, power, promise, and purpose of God; and in important events in the books of Moses, we learn how to understand history so as to gain the perspective and benefit God intends.

A murdering brother and rebellious son, cast out from his parents and exiled to a distant land, is not just a story of fratricide. It shows us God’s eternal intention to separate His people from those who oppose Him and them, while, at the same time, continuing to care for the rebels by His common grace.

The flood in Noah’s day demonstrates the ferocity and might of God’s judgment, His hatred of sin, and His personal care and protection for His chosen people, as well as for all His creation. God does not give up on what He has made, or on those He intends to realize His saving grace. But He will not long tolerate rebellion against His will.

The events that brought Abraham to Canaan and God’s covenant are not just an interesting story about an entrepreneurial elderly gentleman, who proved he could make it on his own in a foreign land. They show us the power of God’s calling and His faithfulness in doing good for the people of His choosing.

The story of Joseph demonstrates what God intends His people to be and do in a world that cares not a whit for Him. The Exodus from Egypt shows just how mighty God is, and the lengths He will go to redeem His people for Himself. The giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai is a watershed moment for all human beings, for here is where God drew the line in the sand dividing sin and righteousness for all the peoples of the world.

All the events of history, sketched out in the books of Moses, point forward to a work of cosmic restoration that God will do through the Seed of the woman.

These are not merely things that happened in the who-cares past. These are works of God, stages of development in His eternal plan, reminders of His greatness, goodness, power, holiness, and portents of His astonishing and saving love. By understanding and meditating on such past events, Paul tells us, we may know continual comfort and indominable hope (Rom. 15.4).

History as revelation
And this is because, at bottom, the events of history are acts of divine revelation. But for too many of us, these events are like going to a 3-D movie and trying to appreciate it without wearing the special glasses. Oh sure, you can get the general story line, remember some of the highlights and turning-points, and even recall the names of a few of the players. But without those special glasses, you can’t appreciate the depth, beauty, color, and ultimate meaning of the events you watched unfold before you on the screen. And you’re not likely to watch that film again, or encourage anyone else to.

So strap on the special glasses of Scripture and saving grace, and let God show you how to understand the events of times past, as well as the times in which you live. When you do, you’ll see that, the events unfolding around us in our day – no matter how separated they may seem from such spiritual matters as seeking the Kingdom of God and going to heaven – are all of a piece in the divine puzzle of history, which God calls us to understand, and in our way and place and time, to contribute to according to His purpose and will.

History matters, because it matters to God. That’s the first lesson of history, and all the events that comprise it, from the five books of Moses.

Questions for reflection
1. How would you describe your attitude toward history? Do you see the events of the Bible as having happened in the same flow of history in which we live today? Explain.

2. Why do history and its events seem to matter so much to God?

3. What are the keys for understanding the events of history from a Christian point of view?

Next steps – Preparation: Does it matter whether the history recorded in the Bible is true? Why? Talk with some Christian friends about these questions.

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.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.