The Arc of History

  • Steve Hatter

For the past two weeks, I have been writing about current events. The civil protests labeled the Capitol Riots, which motivated the second impeachment of Donald Trump, which bled into a most unusual and unprecedented presidential inauguration week for Joe Biden, all continue to move me to humbly ask the question, “How are we, as authentic followers of Jesus Christ, to live in our times?” The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:15 commands the biblical standard: “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” If you have been following my Monday blogs over the past two weeks, you know that my shorter answer, in keeping with Paul’s command, is that I am to live out the axiom Christ is all I need. I have also said that I think saying with full integrity that Christ is all I need hinges on three factors: a correct understanding of conversion, an accurate view of history in keeping with Scripture, and a right view of God that keeps Him the hero of every conversation, story, or event. After writing on conversion last Monday, I want to focus today on element number two—that we need an accurate view of history in keeping with Scripture. I plan to finish the series next week, addressing the final element, a correct view of God.

What is History?

A good working definition of history is this: a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events. Unlike any other living thing on this earth, we human beings very naturally remember our past with both precision and perspective. In so doing, we are compelled to record it in myriad ways. Yet, we likely tend to take the concept of history more lightly than we should. For many, history is merely something most of us are exposed to early in schooling and then is naturally experienced throughout everyday life in varying ways—through more education, through TV, through reading, etc.

However, we also know from our experiences contemplating history that “history” is a massive topic that can be sophisticatedly sliced and diced into a seemingly infinite number of subject or theoretical categories, such as war history or race theory. We also intuitively know that we can, and should, learn from the past to shape a better future, perhaps. Another utterly unique capability of human beings is that we can ponder our future considering our past. Therefore, “history” shapes our thinking far more than we may know. I would assert that whether we acknowledge it or not, our view of history wholly informs our daily decision-making and at all levels of life.

If I am right, this means we need an accurate view of history to rightly inform our daily decision-making, which includes everything from what we choose to watch or read to selecting a college, career, or spouse. People need a correct viewpoint to see and understand the past to best navigate the future. What follows is a description of two diametrically opposed views of human history—the secular and the sacred. I would argue the conflict between these opposing viewpoints is the very root cause of our nation’s ongoing division. It is the source of the Capitol Riots, the second impeachment, and the most unusual and unprecedented presidential inauguration week in America’s history. 

A Secular Viewpoint of Human History

Secular means worldly, non-spiritual. Therefore, a secular viewpoint of human history generally excludes a sovereign, powerful, purposeful, and bound-by-moral-values higher being. It is godless by definition and God-of-the-Bible rejecting by intent. Essentially, a secular viewpoint of history sees human beings as solely in charge of this world, and therefore people alone are the masters of the future. As masters—the ideology asserts—humans have within their collective abilities and powers the opportunity and the responsibility to create a future that solves all problems and removes all suffering. In a sense, secular ideology demands powerful people fill the vacuum created when a sovereign deity is discounted or disallowed. Ironically, this void to fill becomes an irresistible temptation to hubris in the name of doing good for the future of humanity. Hubris leads to extremes on both sides of the political dividing line of left and right. Anarchy and National Socialism—though opposite political philosophies—grow from the same place, a desire to be a god and shape a future of human design. Hubris also encourages those who ascend to power to define truth subjectively. And when institutional checks and balances that enable debate regarding truth crumble or are forcefully removed, tyranny stands at the door. The power holding elites, under the pressure of stewarding utopia—which requires eliminating subjectively-defined ignorance and injustice—in fact, usher in tyranny in the name of justice. An objective look at human history attests that tyranny is the rule in human affairs and not the exception. The euphemism, “same horse, different jockey,” can be seen to apply repeatedly because anyone who dares object to the ruling elite viewpoint has been, or will be, an obstacle to noble progress and should therefore be ignored at best or eliminated at worst. The Bible promises that people of faith are such obstacles and therefore must suffer persecution, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the pinnacle example of this truth. John 15:18–25 affirms the believer’s role as ordained obstacles in Jesus’ own words:

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.

A Sacred View of History

but I chose you out of the world….” When used as an adjective, sacred means connected to God, a good descriptor for the correct view of history that people of faith understand. A sacred view of history puts the God the Bible in the center of all activity in the universe that He alone created and sustains, including every aspect and detail of human history. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be, outside the sovereign will of God. Whether in the ascendency of Julius Caesar of Rome or last week’s inauguration of Joe Biden, God is perfectly working out His overarching plans for His vast and unfathomable creation. Deuteronomy 2:21 asserts: “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;”

A sacred viewpoint of human history puts God exclusively in charge and man at His mercy. God is the master of this world, and he promises through his inerrant Word a future that far exceeds the hope of any worldly utopia. He promises eternal life with Him to those who by faith alone receive the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Man has no power vacuum to fill, no pressure to steward utopia. Man has but to admit his utter spiritual bankruptcy before God and accept salvation as a gift of grace. Man’s proper response to the glorious God of the universe is humility, not hubris. The future must be seen as in God’s trustworthy hands, whether easy or hard in temporal terms. With God, ignorance is overcome with objective truth; injustice is measured against a holy standard of perfect righteousness; human suffering has purpose and meaning. God alone controls the arc of history, and if He ordains we suffer under worldly tyranny, it is for His good purposes. It is not our permanent condition:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

In thinking all of it through, I come to two conclusions: first, I am beyond grateful for the grace of God in saving my sin-cursed soul. Second, as I consider my life going forward under a new American president, I realize I must not be tempted to fight for a future I want but to fight for the objective truth God has given us in His Word.