What Is History? History is the study of some subject in chronological order: tracing ideas back to their origin and studying the progression of ideas or events.
How might we understand history from a Christian perspective? History is commonly understood to be a chronological study of the past. History is frequently used to study government and politics, but history can also be used to explain other topics, such as science, technology, or law. A biographer writes a history of one person and how that person changed or influenced society.
History is His-Story, because God is intimately involved in every act and action of His creation, history again is His-Story. It is HIS story, and as “His story” it is “history”, past, present, and future.
History is generally understood in terms of studying the past. How then is it present or for that matter future? Whereas history is traditionally thought of as studying or understanding the past, because history is God’s story it is past, present, and future. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). History is not just a record of past events that have unfolded but is a record of God’s unfailing Grace in the midst of man’s debacle.
History is particularly important. Viewing history as God’s story changes things. It may very well change us. A study of history shows that people, both individually and as groups or nations, repeatedly encounter the same kinds of problems. It has been said that “history repeats itself.” What is really meant by this statement is that people do not learn from history. If we understand how and why we respond to particular problems in the past, and if we also understand the results of those past responses, then we may choose not to make the same mistakes – relying more fully on God.
Satan has an agenda to distort our view of history and thereby distort our view of God. History is a panorama of His sovereignty, moving men and nations according to His purposes. Thus, it is important to understand history, because it helps us understand what God is doing and how we may participate with His purpose. History being His-story allows us to appreciate and relate to God as He intended, or as we like to say, to experience Life As God Intended.
Examples and evidence abound in church history as to the importance of history as God’s story. One of the early church fathers understood the importance of history. Augustine of Hippo is without doubt one of the most significant figures of the early Church. It has been said that apart from the Biblical authors, no other person prior to the Reformation had a greater impact on Christian thought. He was a prolific writer, none more significant than his book entitled, The City of God that is widely agreed to be his greatest.
Augustine was born in a modest Roman community 40 miles from the Mediterranean coast in Northern Africa which was a part of the Roman Empire in 354. His father was a pagan, and mother was a Christian. In his early life he joined a group of wild and rebellious young men who delighted in coarse sexuality, known as the ‘Smashers’, and he took a concubine. Augustine came to despise Christianity. He saw simple Christians like his own mother as sincerely deluded idiots, without the mental ability to see things as they really were.
He joined the sect of the Manicheans a group of Gnostic dualists, who taught that the universe could be explained by a conflict between eternal and equal principles of good and evil. Eventually he became a skeptic.
Augustine would eventually move to the city of Rome and in God’s providence would come to Christ. Amazingly he began attending church and sat under the preaching of Ambrose. His journey towards faith was not an easy one, he came under deep conviction of sin as he considered his past life and struggled with the question of whether God would ever hear him. It was in summer of 386, while walking in the garden by his home, that he heard, “the sound, as it might be, of a child repeating in a sing-song voice a refrain: ‘Pick it up and read it, pick it up and read it.’ Believing it was God’s command, he picked up a copy of Paul’s writings to the Romans and read in chapter 13, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
This scripture convicted him, and he wholeheartedly gave himself to God, and a great peace came into his heart. An incredible testimony of God’s grace or as we are considering today, God’s Story!
It is said the sum total of all his writings which included some 13 books, 500 letters, 6,000 to 10,000 sermons were over 5,000,000,000 pages. His two greatest books were “Confessions” and “The City of God”. Confessions being primarily his testimony and journey with the Lord. The City of God was promoted by the ruin of Rome. The city of Rome had long since lost its political and economic significance for the Empire, but it still held a great symbolic and psychological importance, Rome was known as ‘the Eternal City’. Its ruin sent shockwaves rippling throughout the Empire, and as often happens in times of crisis, people looked for someone to blame.
Perhaps the new Christian God was not as powerful as he seemed. Perhaps the old false gods had done a better job of protecting Rome. The pagans blamed Christians arguing it was because the worship of the old gods had been removed and the pagan religion had been repudiated. The gods had, they said, retaliated by withdrawing their protection from those who no longer worshipped them.
Many Christians reacted with stunned despair, reasoning that if Rome had fallen, the end of the world was at hand. Augustine’s reaction was different, which was a calm response of faith. He answered the objections of the pagans and set to calm the fears of the Christians. He reasoned that Rome was another empire like any other, just as earlier empires had fallen, so, Rome must pass away.
He explains that the fall of Rome was not a unique event in human history. While there were those who idealized Rome; he called for a healthy realism. Augustine saw that history is not a random process, nor is it controlled by blind, uncaring fate. While the pagan gods and goddesses were a part of history, ruled by destiny just as mortals were, the Bible reveals a God who is the almighty ruler of history. Augustine would reason, that if the beginning of history is seen to be the Creative Act of God, then its end as well is the work of God which was – the completion of man’s redemption. Augustine agued, only then does history become real, and meaningful. While some pagan philosophers suggested an eternal universe in which history was a never-ending cycle all had happened before and would happen again.
Augustine found in the Bible that history is a line, from God and to God. He believed that Christianity redeemed history and made it meaningful, for it was in history that God had worked out the redemption of his people. History was, Augustine explained, ‘a tale of two cities’, the City of God and the City of Man. These “cities” are symbolic embodiments of the two spiritual powers faith and unbelief, that have contended with each other since the fall of the angels. They are inseparably intermingled on this earth and will remain so until time’s end. Must like the parable of the tares that Jesus told.
Cain and Abel were the models of the two cities, Cain the founder of the earthly city, Abel a citizen of the Eternal. These two states have been created by two different sets of affections, the earthly by the love of self to the contempt of God, and the heavenly by the love of God to the contempt of self. That one focuses on self or the other one on God. The City of God is a stranger in this world and Augustine would argue, it is not Rome, that The City of God was not to be identified in any human city, state, or system; its founder is God himself.
Augustine did not regard the Church in terms of an organized hierarchical body. He writes, for example, of ‘The Church predestined and elected before the foundation of the world, the Church of which it is said, “The Lord knows them that are His.”
You may be asking why The City of God is still important to us today? It is not too much to say that a recovery of Augustine’s Christian philosophy of history is one of the greatest needs of the Church in our day and age. He emphasizes the idea that the peace and happiness found in the heavenly city can also be experienced here on earth. As the Western Empires of Europe and the United States are crumbling before our very eyes, and Christianity is rapidly decaying as secular humanism replaces Christian thought and behavior, there is the temptation to despair, to equate either consciously or otherwise the City of God with the United States even as the Romans equated Rome with it.
We see the decay of our culture and react as if ours of all cultures was the one that would not decay or fall until the end, and its decay certainly means that the end of history is at hand. Augustine warns us that such thinking is erroneous, all man’s empires pass away, and ours is no different. We must again realize that the City of God is a pilgrim people, Christians, and no matter what may befall our land, our land is not God’s abiding kingdom. Nor should we fall into the trap of looking to some other land, or some other state or pollical leader i.e., President Trump or the military, as though they were the City of God from which our salvation shall come, and by allegiance to which we shall be saved.
Not only must Christians realize that we are pilgrims in the midst of a hostile world, but we must also realize that history is meaningful. History is “His-story.” History is a God-directed process, no matter what secularism, atheism, and postmodernism may say, as they attempt once more to make the world view of history as pointless and an ultimately irrelevant story. They do not want you to know that history is God’s timeline. Christians must reclaim history, and that means that we must know it, own it, and celebrate it. The teaching that history is the story of two cities co-existing until the end of time.
This should alert the Church in the West to the very real possibility of renewed persecution, even as Augustine alerted Christians in North Africa long ago to that same possibility. While there were men of his day who ridiculed the idea of further persecution in an Empire as strong as Roman, so, even as some in our day would suggest that there will be no more persecution of Christians in the United States, Augustine cautioned, it does not seem to me that the number of persecutions through which the Church is to be tried can be stated, in other words, the (persecutions) are ongoing.
Let us remember the words of Martin Luther, (another Father of the faith although later in history), and His Hymn “A Safe Stronghold Our God Is Still” which he wrote in 1529. The last stanza reads, “And though they take our life, goods, honor, children, wife, yet is their profit small; these things shall vanish all; the City of God remaineth.”
I will leave you with the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). It sounds like Isaiah was talking about His-Story, History.
May we face each and every crisis that comes our way with the courage of knowing history is His-Story! And we are an important part of His Story as His children. Fear has no place in the life of a believer, His child. We affirm that God is in control. At times like these may we choose to – manifest His actions.
Living the Victorious Life
Living the Victorious Life
Living the Victorious Life
Living the Victorious Life