by Tom Luttmann
Let’s face it. If you were going to pick a subject that would help you land a job and make money, history would not be your first choice. Math skills can be a big plus in the business world, science is necessary for medicine-related fields, and English hones your communication skills. But history? Knowing historical facts may win you a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit or even Jeopardy, but it rarely helps you climb the corporate ladder. All this may leave you searching for an answer when your child asks, "Why do I have to study history?"
Fortunately, there is a good answer. It starts with the fact that your child is human. You may deny this fact occasionally, but it’s true and will remain true your child’s whole life. In contrast, jobs will come and go, especially these days. Education is meant to educate humans about life, not just a job. Christian education should educate your child about being a particular human—one conformed to the image of Christ in both character and action; and about living a particular life—one dedicated to the glory of God.
How does history help to do that? Well, it helps to know what "history" is first of all. You could get a number of varied responses if you asked a group of people to define that term. Most would focus on the fact that history is what’s happened in the past, whether that be Caesar crossing the Rubicon or your uncle Louie setting fire to the Christmas tree in ’83. Their responses would probably also reflect a prejudice—we think of history in terms of people. Now I don’t mean that you should start teaching the history of a California redwood or plot your pet cat Fluffy’s family tree. Rather our focus in history needs to look upward to our God who is sovereign over all of it.
God has everything to do with history. Romans 11:36 reminds us that "of him, and through him, and to him, are all things." History is no different. It’s "of him" in that God created time, this world, and man. Without Him, history would not exist. Not only has God created history but He has also revealed in His Word its beginning and end. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away" (Rev. 21:1). Teaching history in light of these truths emphasizes God’s sovereignty and teaches your child to respect His power and authority. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7).
History is "through him" in that God is active in the affairs of men. History tells us the story of God’s work toward man and man’s actions toward God whether that be submission, indifference, or resistance. Secular historians largely ignore the relationship of God and man in history. Even if they did examine it, the result would be at best a distortion of truth. We as Christians are blessed with God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us as we consider what our God has done. Through God’s providence in history we see that God permitted or directed everything that has happened. When your child sees that, he gains confidence that God’s plan for his own life is both wise and good. Joseph in the book of Genesis understood this truth. Despite what his brothers had done, he could say in the end, "ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen. 50:20). God finally allowed Joseph to see why he had to endure certain trials, but Joseph’s faith existed long before. It existed when he was in the pit, when he was sold into slavery, when he was forgotten in prison—when he could not see what God was doing. Our view of history is similar.We see "through a glass, darkly" now, but we have faith that God’s plan is good and wise.
God’s actions must also be seen in light of the eternal. He does not always act immediately, but we can rest assured that He will act. This assurance is important as we see sinful acts of men that seem to go unpunished. As Christians we know that good does eventually triumph over evil, if not in this world then in that to come.When you teach this in history, your child learns patience and a willingness to let God execute vengeance in His own time. An eternal perspective also helps when it seems faithfulness is unrewarded. For instance, during the Boxer Rebellion in China in the early 1900s, many Christians had to flee for their lives. Some were killed, and others escaped, like Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth. Was God watching out for only some of His children? From a purely earthly perspective it might seem so, but a heavenly perspective on history reminds us that God’s children are saved for eternity. He chose to glorify Himself by delivering some in the rebellion and by taking others into His presence through it.
History is "to him" in that God has established the meaning of history. Without God, history is nothing more than a series of random events with no meaning other than what man imposes on them. And having men agree on meaning is about as common as monkeys churning out Hamlet. God has established the central meaning of all history. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). It is the grand story of God’s love and man’s redemption. History speaks of many things, but it should speak loudest of God’s glory.
A Christian study of history as a whole must start, continue, and end with God as its focus. As for history from a secular viewpoint, it is not merely missing one aspect of history; it misses the whole framework on which our interpretation of history must rest. And interpretation does more than just teach your child what happened in the past. It shapes his worldview and teaches him to honor God, trust Him, and give Him all the glory for what He has done throughout the ages.
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