In pages of Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn, the reader is presented with the thoughts and reflections of the main character, Huck. The story is told from his point of view. Huck is less than enthusiastic about learning (to be sure!) and when he is presented with the person of Moses, he retorts, “I don’t take no stock in dead people.” It’s a point of humor early in the book. Nevertheless, Huck’s attitude toward the past resonates with many, if not most, of us.
History . . . people and events of long ago . . . what good is it? After all, those people . . . can they talk to us? And those events . . . can they be re-experienced? Within our culture is a prevailing belief in the power of the present. “What matters is today! What matters is the NOW!”
Yesterday was my birthday. My family and friends were incredibly nice to me. People gave me gifts and cards and plenty of cake. If I had a birthday everyday I’d probably be 400 pounds. Birthdays are great when people in your life love you. Yet as I get older I am fascinated at the way my appreciation for history grows. I’ve always had a bias toward the past (I was a history major in college), but the older I get the more I see how much the past forms the person within us. We possess psychological, emotional and spiritual bonds with others that cannot be undone. We may even attempt to use space and time to separate ourselves from others of whom we are connected, but I have found that those experiences of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood come flooding into me at various times.
The point? We cannot escape the past. History controls us whether we recognize it or not. We are bonded personally with those who have gone before us, and our culture is a product of what people have discovered and created their world.
The good news? To believe in Jesus Christ is to affirm God’s work in history. To be sure, Jesus is alive today. Christ’s saving activity – to save you and me from our sin – continues in the present. Yet to believe in the Christian God is to believe in a God who pinpointed a place and time to act decisively. The makes our faith historical in nature, and that means that to communicate clearly with a culture in love with the present, requires understanding and patience. Understanding . . . because reading the Bible and historical investigation is difficult work (it’s full of joy too!). Patience . . . because if you love someone . . . and want to share the good news with that person . . . you may have to wait until he or she has had a few birthdays before he or she is ready to hear from a God who loves both past and present.