History, Memory and Worldview

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“…And there arose another generation after them who did not
know the LORD or the work that He had done for Israel.”

Judges 2:10

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’”

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

The study of history, like most “subjects,” can be made vital and relevant or become a sheer  waste of time. Disconnected from a self-conscious biblical worldview, the study of history degenerates into meaninglessness very quickly. Henry Ford once observed that “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today.” (Chicago Tribune, 1916).  Ford was an existentialist eschewing the need to study the past. All that was relevant, in terms of his worldview, was the present. This is a formula for disaster and is being replicated in the post-modern present. Parents must beware.

George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (The Life of Reason, 1905). He was right. The reason he was right is that there is always a moral component to history because no one can escape the inescapable question asked by Dr. Francis Schaeffer “how should we then live?” By what moral and ethical standard are individuals and societies bound to live by?
Moral philosophy is also a vital component of the study of human beings and history. It is concerned with answering the questions regarding “right and wrong” throughout history in all civilizations.

The study of history naturally flows out of the four components of every worldview: (1) origins: where did I come from? (2) meaning: how can I know anything with certainty? (3) morality: by what moral standard do I live? and (4) destiny: what happens after I die?

The implications for history, when we answer these questions, exposes our worldview. No worldview, except the biblical worldview, can answer these question coherently and consistently. No worldview except the biblical worldview, can take history and the study of history seriously, for only in the context of a biblical worldview does history have value. No worldview, except the biblical worldview can account for meaning in the study of history. No worldview, except a biblical worldview can say to the next generation “do this and live.”

Self-consciously embracing a biblical worldview, regarding the importance and study of history, carries with it immense ethical implications.

The biblical view of life and history says that “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3) A biblical view of history begins with the reality of Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.”  The biblical view of history is one which accounts for all of life, and teaches all of life has meaning because “…I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning….” Isaiah 46:9-10.

Generation after generation we all are confronted with the challenge of rightly understanding history, rightly living in the context of present history, seeking to understand the failures of those in past history, and handing to our descendants “the baton” of culture building so that they may “run with patience the race set before them” in future history.

As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 78, “Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.”

This is the work of the family in teaching history.

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