The Nature of History

To most, history is simply a dusty collection of facts, dates, names and events that may sound nice and cause us to think, but have no effect on the present or on the life of an individual person. I think many people would be surprised at the close correlation between an individual’s personal views about historical nature and their outlooks and attitudes about life, purpose, and even religion. To examine the correlation there, it is helpful to compare the two basic views of history’s nature: cyclical history and linear history.

When one views history as being cyclical, it leads to the perception of life and the world as being a prison: repetitive cycles occurring over long or short periods with no chance for alteration. It is easy to see how this worldview could have a greatly destructive effect upon an individual. Hinduism as a religion is a perfect example of how humans will act when they perceive history as being cyclical. The belief in reincarnation is a cornerstone of Hinduism, as well as many of the “Eastern” religions and followers who believe in reincarnation will oftentimes devote their lives to meditation in the hopes that they will remember something of their former life. The basis for believing that a former life even exists or that it can be recalled is found in the belief that the past occurs in cycles. If an individual believes that history is cyclical, then what is the purpose of an individual life in comparison to the vast, uncontrollable cycles of history?

In contrast, a linear view of history leads to a greater purposefulness for the individual. The most prevalent view of Christianity is that history is linear: that God is the preeminent composer of history’s symphony and that

He has had an eternal purpose for every event since the beginning of time. If this is the true nature of history, then mankind’s actions can affect the direction of history, though not it’s ultimate conclusion.

Many people make that argument that history is obviously cyclical because we have days, nights, seasons, years, weather cycles, etc. Physical properties of the earth’s position in space do not constitute historical cycles though. The factor that many claim to be cyclical can be explained as the human element present in history. The part of history that is perceived as being cyclical is the presence of the human element throughout history. Human nature is played out in every era of history throughout the world as humans act and react to each other in a myriad of situations. History could be defined as the record of human actions throughout history, and because human nature is universal, humanity is the shaping element in history.

As Christians, we must realize that although God is ultimately in control of the future, history in the making,  we still have a personal responsibility to act in a way that will leave the world in a better position than when we entered it. Encouragingly, we are not tasked with doing so by ourselves, through our own power. The God of history, the same God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, grants us the power of his Spirit through the sacrifice of His Son. It’s certainly nice to know that history is not some impersonal, cycling whirlpool that drags humanity down; history is the story of God’s will being worked through the lives of those that trust Him. He uses all men, willing or unwilling to accomplish His will, but He promises to reward those that have faith in Him.

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