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Learning From History

If we do not learn from history it is certain that we end up repeating it. There are a whole bunch of people who have used this quote. But Henry Ford has a different view. He once commented that ‘history is bunk’.

Whilst many of us thought as much when we were labouring to study history at school it was not a very wise statement. History has many great lessons to teach us and has the habit of humbling us.

Morgan Derham expressed the value of history well when he said, “if we do not consider the errors of our predecessors we shall repeat them; if we do not contemplate their victories, we rob ourselves of our rightful heritage”.

History stands as a living testimony to the sinfulness and goodness of humankind. As the ‘glory and the scandal of the Universe’, to use Pascal’s description, each one of us and each culture is capable of good and evil. It is written large on the pages of history, whether local, national or international.

Thankfully it is in history that God has made himself and His purposes known. It is to the Biblical revelation that Western civilisation owes a linear rather than cyclical view of history. This is as true for history in general as for our personal history in particular.

Creation like us has a beginning and an end. History has been described as His–story. God is the author of history. At the end of time as we know it, human history will be judged by God. The marvellous truth, so clearly explained in scripture is that God would have us become part of His-story. We are invited by God to live for Him. The salvation history, commencing with Abraham but finding its fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth, is the real story that holds the key to life’s purpose.

Most of the world still recognises this, albeit unwittingly, every time a cheque or e-mail is dated. History divides between BC and AD because His-story intersected with our stories in such a way as to transform and give our history meaning. His-story runs on into eternity firstly in Heaven and then in the New Heavens and Earth following Jesus’ return. We are wise to have this long-sighted view of history as it enables and enriches our sojourn here.

Henry Ford was an excellent car manufacturer but not so good at history. It would be a great shame to live a life, even a successful one, but not to understand His-story. When our story intersects with His-story we find ourselves on the track that He made us for. We have in Jesus a way of understanding the human story and finding confidence to live in the present and to face the future when our own personal history will be judged.

Article by Peter Brain