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Truth Project #6 - History: “Whose Story?”

Apr.29/12 Isaiah 46:3-5,8-13

ANNIHILATION FROM HISTORICAL AMNESIA?

How’s your history? Are you a ‘history buff’ - or were you one of those who in school found history to be a boring subject? It’s been noted before that those who are ignorant of history are destined to repeat its mistakes. Or worse! Haddon Robinson, observing that the Old and New Testaments were full of history and peppered with the word “remember,” wrote: “Unfortunately, many of us ignore history.We have not read the minutes of the previous meetings.Graham Wallas, in Our Social Heritage, imagines what would happen if every human being instantly lost all knowledge and all habits acquired from previous generations and, at the same time, retained every power of the mind except memory.The result would wipe out civilization and culture and threaten the annihilation of the human race.”

    Christianity is essentially an historical religion. The Bible, in its basic literary format, is a book of stories, a record of the account of God’s mighty acts throughout the centuries and our human interaction with Him. The core of the Christian “good news” or gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as real events in history. If you’d been there at a particular place and time, you could have witnessed it; but we weren’t, so we depend on the transmitted stories of those who were there. So today as we continue our examination of the Christian worldview, it’s important that we understand history as “God’s story” - His story. Else, we run the risk of amnesia at best and, even worse, annihilation.

GOD’S SOVEREIGN HAND PREVAILS

Evolutionary materialism would insist events in space-time are flukey, random, without overarching purpose or spiritual supervision. But through the pages of Scripture we consistently hear God’s voice insisting He’s sovereign, in control. [SLIDE 34] Ps 33:10f, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” It’s God’s plans and purposes that prevail, NOT what people themselves plan.

    Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” We see here the mysterious interplay between free will (from a human’s perspective) and sovereign determination (from God’s angle): people are still responsible for their actions, but God steers things overall notwithstanding our power of choice.

    We see this very clearly in the circumstances around Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, which fulfilled many prophecies written centuries before. [SLIDE 3] Galatians 4:4f, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that He might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Our Heavenly Father put His adoption plan into action “when the fullness of the time came” - in cadence with His orchestra-director’s baton, as it were.

    The apostles acknowledged that God sovereignly directed even the events surrounding Jesus’ unlawful trial and crucifixion - events that religious and political leaders thought were perhaps results of their own instigation. Really, the Cross was the most heinous, unjust event in history - assassination of the perfectly pure and innocent Son of God: yet this was somehow part of God’s magnificent plan. Acts 4:27f, the early church is praying: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” What a clear and breathtaking statement of God’s sovereignty at work in the actions of people!

    In Acts 17(26), Paul preaching at Athens could declare, “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” Later, Paul wrote to the Ephesians (1:11), “In him [Jesus] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will...” If that idea makes you uncomfortable, maybe you’d better revisit the idea behind one of our favourite verses, Romans 8:28, which insists God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him...” Same divine sovereignty superintending events for your benefit!

    Sovereignty in history gets at a key aspect of God’s being, His divine ompnipotence, His ability to make things happen. Don’t forget God’s name is “Yahweh”, “I AM” or “I will be who I will be” - the term seems related to the Hebrew verb hayah to be...God is the One who ‘makes things happen’! Our Scripture reading today, Isaiah 46 (9ff), emphasizes this repeatedly: “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.[Here He’s probably referring to Cyrus, King of Persia, who will defeat Babylon where the Jews are captive, and restore them to their homeland.]What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”

    The Truth Project material summarizes it this way: “God is sovereign, or absolutely in control.History is in the most literal sense His story.Nothing happens at random or by chance.The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the details of our lives are threads in the great tapestry of His overarching providential plan.”

    You may wonder why most churches have potlucks, but at LWCF we’ve referred to them sometimes in the past as a ‘potbless’ (which makes my own offspring groan, being in-house jargon). In the early 1980s I was an agricultural missionary in Congo(Brazzaville). We were seconded to the Salvation Army; their treasurer was an Englishman, Fred Crowhurst. I must have wished him good luck one day because he immediately challenged me, “Do you really believe in luck?” Biblically speaking, there’s no such thing as luck or completely random chance; Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” No gambling where God is concerned!

RE-WRITING THE STORY TO SUIT OURSELVES

But, being independently-minded creatures with a desire to ‘do our own thing’, humans ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden have resisted God’s sovereignty. As Truth Project materials state, “Man resists the idea of a sovereign God.He wants to control his own destiny, live inside his own "little story," and free himself from all connections with or references to an all-inclusive divine plan.Thus he devises ways to propagate the "pernicious lie" of self-determination ("I am my own god," or "I believe in myself") by taking the larger story of history into his own hands and turning it into a powerful tool for the manipulation of other people and the accomplishment of his own selfish purposes.Historical revisionism, or the agenda-driven re-writing of history, operates on the basis of the premise, "If I can change your historical context, I can determine the way you view the present."” We try to twist things around to suit OUR purposes, convince others to adopt OUR version of events that puts us in a favourable light.

    So you get the modern phenomenon of monkeying with history; [SLIDE 16] “If I can change your historical context, I can change the way you view the present.” This is the power - the danger - of historical revisionism, re-constructing history to fit our preferred scheme.

    Note the devil at it back in the Garden with Adam and Eve; what’s his opening statement? Genesis 3:1, “He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” Satan aims to twist events around, subvert God’s beautiful order. This is a ‘historical revisionist’ statement! “Surely God wouldn’t have said that – He must have meant something different.” And so the doubts begin.

    Matthew 28(11-15) records another example at a key juncture in salvation history, right after the resurrection: [SLIDE 19] “When they [the chief priests] had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, “His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.” [SLIDE 20] And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’ So they [the soldiers who’d been guarding the tomb] took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.” Twist the story around to suit your own purposes, your own ‘agenda’!

    George Orwell noted, [SLIDE 23] “He who controls the past, controls the future.” Another famous social reconstructionist, Karl Marx, said: [SLIDE 24] “A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.” Your heritage is what anchors or roots you to a certain way of being, a certain understanding of who you are, where you’re from; destroy that, and you become malleable, susceptible to others’ persuasion.

    [SLIDE 12] Rigoberta Menchu wrote a prize-winning novel about hardships she endured growing up as a Guatemalan peasant. Later it was revealed much of what she’d written did not really happen. A professor retorted, “Whether her book is true or not, I don’t care...What is important is getting students to believe what we want in the present.” There’s an ideological war going on, and real history falls victim, it’s sacrificed for the sake of crafting a convincing version to shape people’s thinking.

    In the American context, an example is the editing of the Mayflower Compact (the Mayflower was the ship which brought the Puritans to North America in 1620, fleeing religious persecution in England). [SLIDE 14] Modern school texts quote it this way: “We whose names are underwritten...having undertaken, a voyage to plant the first colony...” But what’s the original document actually say? [SLIDE 15] “In the name of God, Amen.We whose names are underwritten...having undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancements of the Christian faith...a voyage to plant the first colony...” Significant amendments! Cutting out the whole spiritual thrust or purpose of their enterprise.

    What about our own Canadian history? W Kaye Lamb in Canada’s Five Centuries (1971) describes Jacques Cartier’s first voyage to Canada in 1534: “He came to go beyond the straits and to explore in the hope that he would find new lands for France, rich in gold and silver, and the long-sought route to Asia.” Is that so? Strictly commercial in nature? It goes on, “On July 24, on the shore of the Baie de Gaspé, he erected a large cross and took formal possession of the country in the name of the King of France.” A large cross, eh? Strange symbol for someone whose aims are purely worldly.

    Let’s go a little further back. Stephen Leacock in his 1941 book Canada: The Foundations of Its Future offers this description of Cartier’s encounter with the natives at what would become Montreal: “The Indians who crowded about the French in the open square of Hechelaga...laid mats for them to sit on.They brought their sick and infirm to be touched.Cartier read to them aloud from the Gospel of St.John, the Indians lifting rapt eyes to heaven, in pious imitation.” Why would a strictly commercial explorer be reading to them from the Bible? In fact if you look closely at Cartier’s own account, one finds definite religious motives behind his exploration.

    Postmodernism is way of any over-arching theme or “metanarrative” that might possibly be arranging historical events in some sort of meaningful sense. What’s a ‘metanarrative’? [SLIDE 40] A ‘metanarrative’ is any ‘large story’ that pretends to give an all-encompassing explanation of anything, especially an over-arching story of history and life in attempt to legitimize some version of truth. (The Bible for instance would provide one such ‘metanarrative’.) [SLIDE 39] Postmodernist Lyotard notes: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives.” Incredulity - reluctance to believe. The idea that God sovereignly oversees history would be repugnant to a postmodernist.

    In this 1-minute video clip, the Truth Project provides some experts including Ravi Zacharias who explain how our era rejects the ‘larger story’ Christianity has to offer...[VIDEO - POSTMODERNISM AND HISTORY]

MEMORIAL-MARKERS LEST WE FORGET

We reject history, especially Biblical history, at our peril. We need history to inform our sense of who we are. [SLIDE 28] Os Guinness warns, “Those who don’t know history have no sense of identity, and no sense of wisdom as they explore where they’re going to go.Without History we’re lost.”

    According to the Truth Project materials, we as human beings cannot understand our place in the world without cultivating a vision of ourselves as part of this larger story. This is why the Bible contains so many exhortations to "remember" what God has done in the past, whether through the device of "memorial stones," annual festivals, tassels, phylacteries, or the discipline of hiding His Word in our hearts. If we do not remember, we run the risk of becoming myopic, proud, self-sufficient, and eventually incurring our own destruction - not necessarily physical destruction, but rather a complete loss of identity, purpose, and meaning, or what Amos refers to as a "famine of hearing the Word of the Lord" (Amos 8:11).

    God through the prophet Moses warns His people in Deuteronomy 8(10-20), [SLIDE 29] “...BE CAREFUL that yo do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands...Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied...” [SLIDE 30] “then your heart will become proud and you will FORGET the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery...You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is HE who gives you the ability to produce wealth...” [SLIDE 31] “If you ever forget the Lord your God...you will surely be destroyed.”

    The Old Testament Jews used memorial stones from the Jordan River, tassels on their clothing, phylacteries on their arms and foreheads, and periodic festivals to help them not forget the story of their deliverance by God. How are we doing with our families? In the terms of Deuteronomy 6, do we impress God’s teaching on our children, talking about them at home and on the road, writing them on our doorframes? Do we have devotions around the supper table, prayer at bedtimes, a wll-worn picture Bible-storybook? I remember from my parents’ home a ceramic plaque hung on the wall, light brown in colour, sort of scroll-shaped, with the verse: “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2Cor 12:9) Very simple, but I still remember it!

MAKE YOUR MARK AS A STEPPING-STONE

As our own personal history marches on, the older we get, the more we become conscious of how time is passing, slipping away, along with any opportunities to ‘pass on’ the story - impress it upon the next generation. As Christians we need to know our faith-history in order to transmit it. Our aim should be to leave stepping-stones for others to follow. Hendrik Rookmaaker, the Christian art critic, warned his students: “You cannot begin as though there was nothing before you.There have been many who have struggled before you.Learn from them; be humble.You stand on the shoulders of those others, and you can maybe take their ideas a little further; that is all.Then one day, someone will go beyond you; only be sure that you take your ideas and your work deeper into the Christian way of seeing reality.”

    The Pilgrims had this view. Historian Bradford writes that the Pilgrims [SLIDE 51] “...cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations...for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be BUT STEPPING STONES to others in the performance of so great a work.”

    Montreal is no small city in the Canadian context. What is the geographical landmark associated with it? Mount Royal. And what is at the focal point of Mount Royal? A cross. A memorial marker. How did it get there? Well, that’s a very interesting story!

    You probably wouldn’t have guessed it, but Montreal was founded as an experiment in evangelism. The colony was founded May 17, 1642, by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, who would be its governor for 23 years. The stated purpose of the colony was to “bring about the glory of God and the salvation of the Indians.” A book written in 1643 titled The Purpose of Montreal notes, “The inhabitants life for the most part communally, as in a sort of inn; others live on their private means, but all live in Jesus Christ, with one heart and soul.”

    However the settlement was nearly destroyed by a flood in its first winter. Michael Clarke’s book Canada: Portraits of Faith records: “On Christmas Eve 1642, the Saint Lawrence River overflowed.After consulting with the chaplains, Maisonneuve promised that he would carry a cross to the top of Mount Royal if the waters that were already surging against the gates of the fort subsided without causing serious damage.He put his promise in writing; had it read publicly; and then placed a cross, at whose foot was the written statement, on the bank of the overflowing river.After much prayer and invocations for the Virgin’s protection, the waters subsided.Two weeks later, Maisonneuve carried a cross through the bush to the top of Mount Royal.Today, an illuminated cross marks the spot.” Let’s pray.