I have recently developed a fascination, no, that is much too tame a word. I would have to say I have grown an obsession with history.
I suppose it is a natural and necessary outgrowth of liking the memoir genre. Because what is memoir but history on the minutest scale anyway?
But I have lately been enjoying history on the grand scale as well – world history, American history – the broad sweep of civilizations, cultures and people, lapping up timelines that fill walls, innumerable books from the library, even the hopelessly biased shows on the History Channel – America: The Story of Us, The Men Who Built America and The Story of Mankind.
When I was in school, I found history unappealing.
It was either full of dates and wars that meant nothing to me or it seemed hopelessly disjointed and nothing that mattered personally, on a daily, moral or intellectual level. I mean, yeah, it was cool that so-and-so king built all these temples and the architecture was interesting to gaze at, but ultimately, what was my reason to know this – outside of test scores?
No matter how many facts I learned, I didn’t see why I needed to know them.
Which leads to my wondering how to teach it to my children. What is it that I want them to see, to know, to remember? How will what they know inform their lives, their worldviews?
In the world of easily accessible information, they don’t need to memorize dates and wars. I refuse to make history about test scores and I definitely don’t want to teach history out of a text book that gives them the state-centric view – whether nationalist or revisionist.
No matter what, I find historical accounts, however dry, however “objective,” hopelessly biased and yet endlessly fascinating.
Appropriately then, the one time I did find history interesting was when we studied the Indian Independence struggle. The textbook was heavily nationalistic and yet one that sought to appease the myriad faiths and philosophical leanings of fiercely Indian parents who sent their Indian but English speaking children to a school established under the British system of education. In the midst of that struggle, history acquired a new meaning for me, I think.
Even as a fifteen year old, I understood something about living in the in between, about divided allegiances. I understood, on some level, however murky, that people were imperfect and deeply flawed.
Seen this way, what’s the point of history anyway, I seem to have decided. There are no clear cut boundaries, no winners and losers – it only seems that way until the next battle, the next war. And let’s not even get started on how it is constantly revised and rewritten, even to protests of that’s not how it happened!
So I gave up history for the pleasures of literature, of no clarity and tons of speculation. Fact was stranger than fiction and I preferred the solace of stolid stories.
But then, I came back. When I came to Christ, suddenly history became important. There was an objective truth somewhere in the narrative, I realized, and it was important – the most important thing was not about how individuals perceived things, life was more than a tale told by an idiot. There was more to sound and the fury than more sound and more fury.
And so, as I stumble along, no, tear along, learning things I never before found interesting, here are three things I want my children to learn from history:
The story of history is the story of God’s love for his people
People often mean things for evil, but God uses them for the good of those called by Him. The battles, the wars, are important to know, but they have to be remembered as only a backdrop. God’s redemption is often the main plot against the background of man’s sinfulness. I would hate for us to miss this as we study.
God’s Word truly does endure forever
Empires rise and fall and the grand sense of Ozymandian waste we feel should be balanced by the grand sense of grandeur God offers by showing us how he has always cared for His own from the beginning of time. The story of God’s redemption does not begin with Christ’s birth as is often erroneously noted but with the promise of His birth to His people and the response of faith by those called by Him.
It’s ALL important and we cannot know how it all fits just yet
For all my complaining about how I left history behind for the promise literature offered, I soon realized that literature had its own flaws and similar ones at that. Not everything can be tied up with a bow, some things are just there, not understood, not deciphered but that does not mean they are lost. Nothing is lost in God’s economy but we cannot always know this side of eternity how it all fits.
History is fascinating, full of kings, queens, monsters, and ordinary people.
It offers lessons to our souls beyond what living in the present has to offer, but ultimately, for all the adventure, for all the inventions, for all the discoveries, the reason we are attracted to it, I think, is that we find ourselves in it.
And we find, more than anything else, a great and faithful God.