I believe one of the great tragedies of our era is that we no longer know our history. A large part of this is our education system. We’re not taught enough. We’re taught dates at times and places and events, but are we really taught the reasoning behind them? It’s good to know when Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the Wittenburg door. It’s better to know why he did so.
One of the great benefits is that we can learn about the heroes of the past for our virtue today. Learning about what the great heroes of the past did can remind us of the possibilities that we have today. This is fitting especially in Christian circles where we have the lives of the saints to look up to.
We can also learn about the great errors of the past. Are there some things we should know not to do now from events like the Crusades and the Inquisition? (Although I don’t think these were the nightmares they’re made out to be. I’m not condoning all that happened in them, but I suspect some historical revisionism has taken place.)
This is along the lines of not reinventing the wheel. Learn from mistakes, preferably other people’s. If we know that something didn’t work for the Christians in the past and didn’t bring about Christlikeness in people, then we should know that that is something we need to avoid.
Of course, there is also the great wisdom of the past. Reading the philosophy of Plato can bring some great insight into how one views the world, and the philosophy is rooted in history. There are historical figures that are found in the dialogues. I’m not saying they are historical, but they do have mention of figures we know from other events in history.
We can also gain much insight into the biblical text by knowing what was going on. If you know about Josephus, you will read certain passages in the Scriptures differently. If you know what happened with the Early Church Fathers, you will interpret the Scriptures in a different way.
Our era though is one that forgets history. We’re all about what is going on now, but we have no clue about what went on in the past. I remarked about this in an earlier blog where it seems people today have even lost sight of what really happened on 9/11. We mourn what happened at Virginia Tech for a week and then life goes on.
If we aren’t changing ourselves as a nation in response to evil, then we are merely leaving the door open for it to happen again.
We need to know our roots if we are to know who we are. I remember this with talking to a lady who was speaking about the movie 300. I never saw it, but she was talking about how it ended with them losing and I said “It’s not like they can change it. It is history after all.” I got the reply of “You mean that really happened?”
Yes Virginia. 300 men really did hold off 1,000,000. It’s a shame the only way to bring about interest in history is through a movie.
We as Christians should especially know history. Christianity is a historical faith. We are claiming that within the space-time continuum, God did enter. We are claiming that Christ did live and did die on a cross and did rise from the dead. If it’s not historical fact but rather just a nice story, then there’s no reason for this blog. I have far better things I can be doing.
But if it isn’t, and it is historical truth, then that gives me hope for the future rooted on what happened in the past. Because of what happened nearly 2,000 years ago, I can have hope.
My advice today? Read history. Not just biblical history. Read any history. Learn where you came from.