History and Humility

By Tuesday, March 15, 2016 , , , ,

 As you likely know, I love a good historical drama or historical fiction book. Many of my favorite stories hearken back to a bygone era and portray the vast differences between then and now. Stories set in a long-ago time period encompass much of my reading and watching life, and I’ve only recently realized how necessary this is for me. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about why stories matter, but lately, I’ve been realizing that history itself is also just as important. Stick with me, please. Just hear me out and give it a thought, maybe? That’s all I ask. 

History can have a bad rap. So many people I meet scoff and roll their eyes when history arises in conversation. I hear people say it’s pointless, boring, or unusable, and I honestly want to cry when I hear such things. If you’re prone to this kind of opinion, will you please try to lay aside that notion for a moment? More than likely, you were never taught history in an engaging way. You may not have been told that events of the past have everything to do with the way you now live and with the worldview to which you now ascribe. And perhaps most tragically, you might not have been told that the study of history serves as an excellent antidote to pride and selfishness, and it can also help lead to a greater knowledge and affection for the God who has written it. 

First of all, history is important because it is God’s doing. History = His story. When we look back into ages gone by, we are meant to see marks of His guidance, sovereignty, and faithfulness all over it. Consider how many times in the Old Testament Israel’s leaders recited Israel’s own history to the people and charged them to remember. How many times did God Himself tell the people to remember and go forward with it in their hearts? How many times did Jesus refer back to Israel’s history and explain how it pointed to Himself? We are commanded to combat doubt, fear, and uncertainty by looking back and remembering (Psalm 77). He has been faithful in the past, so we can go forward in hope.

And second, history is important because it demands humility of us and cultivates humility in us. Looking back requires mentally stepping out of our own time and considering a different viewpoint. It requires admitting that the present is not all there is, and we need that. I’ve been realizing that it is frightfully arrogant and selfish to believe that our current era has all we need and there is nothing to learn from the past. We are not meant to sit in our own personal bubble of time and space without seeking out knowledge of other times and places. To put it bluntly, history did not begin on your birthday or on my birthday, and to act as such by dismissing the lives of those who have gone before us reeks of ignorance and conceit. I’m not saying we all should become history buffs and memorize every country’s historical timeline. History professors will remain their own breed, and that’s completely fine. But I am saying that we have an obligation to preserve the memory of those who came before us and to continue learning from them. Just like all cultures should learn from one another, every new time period should learn from the others before it. Eric Metaxas expresses this profoundly in his excellent book, Seven Women

“We must be honest enough to recognize that each era cannot help having a pinched, parochial view of things, and of course the largest part of that parochialism is that each era thinks it is not parochial at all. Each era has the fatal hubris to believe that it has once and for all climbed to the top of the mountain and can see everything as it is, from the highest and most objective vantage point possible. But to assert that ours is the only blinker-less view of things is to blither fatuousness. We need to delve into the past to know that we have not progressed to any point of perfection and objectivity…The Bible says we are to humble ourselves, and in reading the stories of great men and women from the past, we inevitably do just that. But in humbling ourselves in that way we ironically gain a far greater objectivity and a far better vantage point from which to see things.” 

Well said, sir. And Eric Metaxas is only one of many authors who have done us the service of preserving the stories of historical men and women from whom we can learn much. As previously mentioned, I’m sorry if history was presented to you as a chore or necessary evil as you grew up. History is not meant to be confined to a class lecture or a few tests for which to regurgitate random facts. It is something that you can constantly learn in many enjoyable ways. I’ve learned more about World War I and the Roaring ’20s from Downton Abbey than I ever did from a textbook, and a few tours of Washington D.C. and Virginia have made me marvel at God’s faithfulness throughout the founding of the United States. Read, watch, travel, and learn, my friends. There will never be a shortage of material. Hit me up if you need suggestions that are fun and informative! As usual, I think stories help a lot :)

Have you struggled to appreciate history before? What historical settings do you enjoy in books or movies? What are your favorite historical fiction works? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Great post! I love how much easier it is to learn historical facts from fiction books. Favorites from my past: Gone with the Wind, The Three Musketeers, A Tale of Two Cities...

    1. Thanks, Lynn! It really is so much easier to learn it when a great story is involved.

  2. From one fellow history-buff to another: YES and amen. ;) SO loved this post and couldn't agree more on the importance of history.

    1. Thanks so much for the encouraging comment, Meghan! Always good to meet a fellow history buff since they can feel pretty few and far between ;)