Saturday, April 6, 2013

If History Teaches Us Anything...

I believe it was Mark Twain who said, "If history teaches us anything, it teaches us it doesn't teach us anything." Maybe Twain was right.

These days I have been reading through the Old Testament book of Judges. Relative to other books in the Bible, the book of Judges chronicles one of the darker and more depressing periods in the history of God's people. This particular book does not belong in the category of "inspirational." Instead it is quite troubling. How so?

The focus of the Book of Judges is the total collapse of Israel's society under the judges. The first sixteen chapters of the book describe how the people of God completely disregarded the commands of God and repeatedly broke faithfulness with the One who had made them. Their disobedience was illustrated by their refusal to complete the conquest of the land (chapters 1-2:5) and their unfaithfulness was demonstrated by the repeated cycle of sin, judgment, repentance and deliverance (chapter 2:6-16:31). The final section of the book (chapters 17-21) outlines what happens when people treat God this way--social chaos erupts; or to use the words of the book's author, "everybody did as he saw fit" (17:6).

All of this is to suggest that the Book of Judges presents a pattern, an outline of what happens to cultures and civilizations when God is conveniently left out of the equation. Does history teach us anything? The pattern goes something like this. First human beings ignore God by disobeying his laws. In short we write our own rules to live by. The notion of absolute and transcendent moral authority goes by the wayside. We do as we see fit. Does history teach us anything?

Secondly, as the Book of Judges demonstrates, law-abandoning people eventually become complacent and uncritical about their religious life. Modern-day idolatries such as monetary greed, power-grabbing, sensual pleasure, paralyzing addictions, bodily fitness; just to name a few, eventually shrinks our soul. Add to this the uncritical acceptance of any and all forms of religious belief. We dine at a smorgasbord of religious systems borrowing beliefs that are best suited for our particular tastes. Does history teach us anything?

Finally and sadly what results is social anarchy. The last chapters of Judges record the breakdown of human justice and civil order. Whenever religious life is confusing or at best uncertain, disastrous consequences follow. The final chapters of the Book of Judges read like a modern anthology of sexual impropriety, human injustice, corruption, violence and depravity. Human depravity and breakdown in one area of society, if uncorrected will lead to deterioration in other areas, and finally the collapse of the civil society itself. Does history teach us anything?

There is a curious phrase that pops us throughout the book of Judges. The phrase is, in those days Israel had no king (18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The phrase suggests that perhaps the writer of Judges was looking back from a time when Israel did have kings. Given the abysmal failure of God’s people, the moral deterioration and the societal chaos and confusion, history can still teach us. Despite the dismal and disheartening circumstances, there is a silent stirring, an unspoken yearning for an ideal King—the anticipation of a King like David.

We know this King by a different name. His name is Jesus; the ultimate and rightful King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords. Does history teach us anything? You bet it does! History teaches us that God still accepts true faith in Him even in the muddle and mess of everyday living. No matter how dismal, dark and dreary the world can be, then and now, God embraces the sincere and heartfelt cry of faith in a better King!