What we learn from studying the past
Twenty years ago, immediately after Sept. 11, how many people thought that two decades would go by without another major attack? Yes, we’ve had the Great Recession and COVID-19, and all of us should join the lament of those who have lost friends and family members—but pundits were predicting far worse for the nation as a whole.
Remember Christ’s story of poor Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell? At the end of Chapter 16 of Luke’s Gospel, the rich man wants his five living brothers to hear from Lazarus via a special Zoom call. Abraham responds that “Moses and the Prophets” have already given them all the information they need. The same is true today.
Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once said that if he died and met God, he would accuse God of providing insufficient evidence of His existence. Russell wanted God to provide a special message outside the Bible—but a study of history shows that God has already done that.
Study the Thirty Years War, fought in the name of Christ from 1618 to 1648. You’ll see why those who praise His name should be at peace with each other, loving neighbors more than ourselves, instead of using Christian claims to pursue our own murderous tendencies.
Study the 18th-century Enlightenment and its culmination in the French Revolution. You’ll see what happens when we elevate man’s thinking above God’s. Robespierre’s religion of Reason concluded with a reasonable invention that saved bullets: the guillotine.
Study 19th-century American racism and the millions of brutalized slave lives, the 600,000 Civil War soldier deaths, and the new oppression that began when Northerners, many also racist, abandoned the ex-slaves in 1877. You’ll see why it’s deadly to treat some humans as not made in God’s image—and why even in 2021 we are still paying for the sins of America’s patriarchs.
Study the first half of the 20th century and see what happened when Germans, Russians, and others followed the teachings of Darwin and Marx: Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust and Josef Stalin’s mass murders all followed the decision to treat some human beings as merely products of material forces. Germany, Europe’s most academically advanced country, proved that knowledge without wisdom leaves the know-it-alls on an inch-wide ledge.
Study the 76 years since atomic bombs vaporized tens of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to see God’s mercy in protecting hundreds of millions more. Never before in recorded human history has a potent new weapon not been used again for such a long time. (You’ll also be driven to prayer that Iran, North Korea, or others don’t break that record.)
If those five studies aren’t enough to convince you, look at Jewish history. What are the odds that in one minor chieftain 4,000 years ago, Abraham, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”? That this statement came true 2,000 years later? That 2,000 more years later a God-hating regime murdered 6 million of Abraham’s descendants, but some survivors started a new nation where Abraham had lived? That the new nation overcame 50-1 odds to survive?
(An interesting sidelight: The small Jewish slice of the world’s population has had far more Nobel Prize winners, chess champions, and other leading intellectuals than any other similar population—and even more comedians. Natural? Coincidental? I don’t think so.)
Blaise Pascal was wiser than Bertrand Russell. Pascal understood that God establishes Biblical objectivity while respecting man’s subjective liberty: God is “willing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart. God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.”
Praise God who overcomes fear and will one day wipe away every tear.
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