There are some people who say that history is dry and boring. Have you ever heard someone say that? Maybe you yourself have thought that. History is little more than a bunch of facts and dates. If that’s all that history is, then they are right -- it is dry and boring.
Recently I came across a quotation that a good friend had supplied me several years ago. It’s taken from the Introduction to Brave Companions: Portraits in History by historian David McCullough. There he writes: “In writing history, to catch the feeling as well as the ‘truth’ of other times, it is of utmost importance, I believe, to convey the sense that things need not have happened as they did. Life in other times past was never on a track, any more than it is now or ever will be. The past after all is only another name for someone else’s present. How would things turn out? They knew no better than we know how things will turn out for us.”
As much as we may admire Abraham Lincoln and John Calvin for their wisdom and their boldness, for example, it’s important to remember, first, that in their own lifetime they were vilified, and, second, they had no idea how events would turn out. From a human point-of-view, no one knew for sure whether the union would hold after Lincoln’s death, or if the Reformation would be little more than a blip on the historical and theological screen.
In writing a church’s story or the life of an individual, it is always helpful to remember that, while we believe in the providence of God, we human beings are never sure of the particulars. We simply do the very best we can, and trust that God will take what we do and shape it into God’s will. Even those first disciples didn’t know how things would turn out. By looking backwards through the prism of time and the resurrection, they could recall what Jesus said and did and begin to have some sense of what he meant. At the time they seemed to be clueless. After Pentecost they had a new sense of energy and direction. But even then, who knew whether or not this enterprise would take off? So it is with us. We live and act in faith -- faith that, while we don’t know how things will turn out, God will take our efforts and make something good come out of them. History is more than facts and dates. It’s made up of human beings just like you and me. As we make history today, may we grow in our gratitude for those who went before us and who lived and acted out of faith, trusting that God’s will would be done.