GWF Hegel’s often misquoted dictum is:
“What experience and history teach us is that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”
This does not say that nothing can be learned, but on the contrary that too little of what could be learned has been learned. In Christian education we will seek to bring out what the principles of history are and what can be learned from them. When we fail to understand that there are principles, it leads to Henry Ford’s view of history that it “is bunk”.
Christianity recognises Christ as the centre of all history:
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17
- History is the theatre that God has created for the display of His undeserved love and His deserved judgements.
- He has created history to call and form a people for Himself.
- When God’s purposes are complete, history will be brought to an end.
While God is working out His plans throughout history we, from the human perspective, are not able to see or know them all. We need to bring humility to the study of history since there is much we cannot see or understand. Scripture gives us insight into some but not all of history.
In the Psalms God calls us to reflect on history and remember what He has done as He warns and corrects us through His deliverances and judgements. We need to reflect not only on global history but also on our own personal histories. Seeing His caring for us enables us to have compassion and share with others.
We aim that pupils, through gaining a wide knowledge of history, will:
- understand the governing principles of history.
- through seeing God’s trustworthiness gain a sense of place and identity.
- gain a sense of awe at seeing God as sovereign over all things.
- recognise that present benefits have been brought to us at the cost of those before us.
- develop humility and compassion in seeing the undeserved gifts and deliverances of God, and wholesome fear because of His judgements.
- see the bible story, global history and their own lives as one continuing story and learn from it.
Principles in History
The principles that we can see in scripture will form the foundation of our history teaching. Some of these are outlined below.
- History is unfolding according to the Lord’s plan and purpose and he is sovereign over all events.
Rom 13v1 Eph 1v11″His dominion is an everlasting dominion: his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or say to him what have you done?” Daniel 4:34,35. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:13. (See also Ephesians 1:3-12, 20-33; Colossians 1:15-19; Romans 8:28)
- This means that “History is not just events, mere historical cause and effect. It is not a long list of dates in a textbook. Ultimately history is the work of Christ, the Lord of history, and it unfolds itself because he acts within and into it.’ (Hans Rookmaaker)
- Men and women and boys and girls are created in God’s image. (Genesis 1) This is why history abounds with stories of heroism and self-sacrifice; the creation of works of art, music and architecture; the making of books; the development of science and technology; the building of cities and nations and many other human acts of reason, beauty, order and design which reflect the glory of man’s Creator. Because man is made in the image of God, we see His character worked out even in fallen mankind.
- Mankind has been in rebellion against God since the Fall (Genesis 3)
Because of this, history is filled with stories of selfishness, greed, crime, war, poverty, hunger, sickness and death.
- Man remains the same in basic nature and desires throughout history. God’s laws are therefore good and applicable to all men.
- History is more than meets the eye.
It is the battleground where the Lord of Hosts is engaged in conflict with the powers of evil. We are all involved in this. (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Satan, the “Prince of this world” is actively involved in the affairs of men. He seeks to keep men away from the Lord by all manner of deception and to hinder and destroy the Kingdom of God. (e.g. revelation 12 & 13; 17 & 18). Satan has been defeated. Col 2:15
- God’s great purpose in history is to redeem a people for himself by the sacrifice of his Son. (Titus 2: 13,14).
- The history of the present world will end when Christ returns in triumph to judge the whole of mankind. (1 Corinthians 15; Revelation 20:10-22; 21).
All the events of history are culminating in the final overthrow of the powers of evil and the victorious reign of Christ.
- Everyone has a part to play in history. Every boy and girl is important. (2 Kings 5:2,3; John 6:9)
We are all making history whether for good or bad. “Within the theatre of history, man is neither a puppet nor a spectator”. (Rookmaaker) This places a great responsibility on us all.
- God gave men and women a role in His world. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”(Genesis 1:28. See also Gen 1:26; Gen 9:1,7 Psalm 8:6)
- History contains the record of how man has discharged this responsibility.
- God may use good and evil men in fulfilling His purposes. He used evil nations to punish other nations and accomplished His purposes in redemption as evil men crucified Jesus.
- God teaches people through histories both our personal histories and our national and global histories. Nations should learn and we as individuals must learn to be corrected and taught by our own and other’s pasts.
- Providence: He “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11. See also Roman 8:28) Children can be shown how to look for the more obvious examples of God’s gracious overruling in history. We cannot always answer all the questions and must beware of putting our own human interpretation on events. However, where the results of providence are obviously beneficial, we can draw attention to God’s kindness in permitting it.
- When some of God’s revealed purposes for history are forwarded we can discern God’s hand more clearly. (Caution is still needed). An example: one of God’s revealed purposes is that the gospel will spread throughout the world.(Matt 24:14) The rise of Alexander the Great and the subsequent spread of the Greek language followed by the Roman Empire are events plainly designed to favour the remarkable spread of Christianity in the early centuries A.D.
National Life: “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34). This principle is one of the keys to the rise and fall of nations in history (not least of the United Kingdom!) That a nation cannot expect to prosper indefinitely while its members turn away from the Source of their well-being, is a lesson which is vital for young people to know in these days. The Old Testament prophets furnish abundant commentary on national sins, which we can recognise in societies through the ages. Here are some examples:
Amos 1-8 rejecting God’s law
exploitation of the poor by the rich
making justice for the poor hard to obtain
corruption in legal affairs
permitting immorality and vile practices
having a formal religion but neglecting justice
living in selfish luxury while the nation is ruined
corrupt business practice
Isaiah 10 national boasting
Nahum 1,3 violence in society, lying and idolatry.
Habakkuk 1 making a god of military strength;
making unwarranted sacrifices to military strength.
Zechariah 7 oppression of women and children, immigrants and the poor God may allow nations to follow their own path into moral and social decay but He will bring them back by reviving His people before things go too far.
International Relations: As we study history, it is sometimes hard to see that the behaviour of one nation towards another should be governed by the same rules of morality as the actions of individuals. Thus, we tend to excuse wrong-doing because it is “in the national interest”, especially if we belong to the nation concerned. In the past, school textbooks have sometimes been guilty of ignoring the morality of British treatment of other nations in favour of the “glories” of military conquest and exploitation. Useful correctives are again to be found in the prophets, where the following behaviour of nations is condemned:
Amos 1 cruel destruction of one nation by another
deportation and slave trading
extension of borders by force
one nation indulging in hatred of another
Habakkuk 1 living in luxury by destroying and exploiting other nations
Nahum 5 leading other nations astray by exporting
Rev.18, corrupt morals and superstitions.
Obadiah standing aloof while a neighbouring nation is looted;
rejoicing at the misfortune of another nation and exploiting its ruin;
handing back refugees to their oppressors.
- A “Ground View” of History
Speaking of the risen Christ, Hebrews 2:8 states, “In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.”
The children need to understand that to the ordinary observer, history looks like a tangle of events in which people and nations react and interact in many ways.
“From the ground”, history is indeed a strange mixture of tradition and change; adaptation and development; inter dependence and co-operation; conflict and treaty; progress and decline.
To a certain extent this can be interpreted (as secular historians seek to do) in terms of cause and effect and sometimes this is helpful. However, the divine perspective must not be forgotten if we are to learn the true lessons of history.