History and Truth
My hope is that you are progressing in your understanding of history, learning key things that will enrich and encourage your faith in both God and man. There are things that we need to learn and remember so that we might grow in our understanding and appreciation of God and one another. All truth finds root in God. This is the meaning of that single verse in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians when he said, “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). Truth exists. Truth can be known and should be shared and valued because God empowers and blesses it. Jesus is personally interested in what is true and the existence and promotion of truth. In this fact one finds the linkage between history and truth. History is an intellectual discipline with which all of us must deal.
History is a discipline that deals with truth—facts, events, persons, memories, memorials, monuments, tragedies, triumphs, treasures, relationships and various artifacts. Obviously, this study also deals with emotions—love and hate, joy and sadness, and a range of other emotive extremes and experiences. I have often expressed this feeling regarding history—“I love history.” There are many who also embrace this emotive response regarding the study of the past. The Apostle Paul expressed this experience in this manner, “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). History obviously deals with memory, what we can know and communicate about the past. Consequently, it is about learning and remembering. There are different ways to emphasize the importance of truth, remembering, not forgetting, rejoicing in the reality of truth and God. In this there is a simple politeness, a compassionate sensitivity that embraces others. It is this very thing that the writer of Hebrews emphasizes several times and that we would do well to consider—“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2); “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also” (13:3); “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (13:7); and “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (13:16). Did you notice those great “historical” words—“do not forget” and “remember”?
History is not just a matter of personal opinion, individual preference, or sectarian dogma. It is about truth, what is real, reliable, factual, and substantial. It is more than personal or even social, but it is real and substantial. History is about what is real and reliable, documented and definite in regards to what we know about the past and what happened. Our knowledge of the past is related to what exists in memory, in documents, in records, in artifacts, in monuments, and in other physical remains and records. Part of the historical experience is learning to evaluate the truthfulness, the reliability of what remains to testify to historical reality. In this one finds the importance of The Bible as the written Word of God.
Sometimes people try to manufacture proof; they fabricate, lie, about events or persons for some prejudicial reason. In this there is no truth, sometimes a half-truth. A half truth is a whole lie. Anything that is not the whole truth is a lie, deceiving and destructive. We should strive for the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as the oath says, “so help me God.”
The best example of this exercise of remembering and respecting the truth and one of the most common in the present day has to do with the Holocaust. There are many who deny the reality of the Nazi Holocaust that the world tolerated, in some cases approved. We should remember what took place in the lives of millions during the twenties and thirties in the last century; the horrors of World War I and World War II, not to speak of all the other devastating and deadly wars of the last century resulting in nameless millions lost. To deny the Holocaust is to invite its resurrection in devastating ways. History calls us to embrace the truth of such events that we might not have to repeat those tragedies and trials. In this exercise there is a love manifest that calls us to truth.
In such real truth Paul the great early thinker emphasized the love of truth and how we communicate it. He said to the troubled and troubling Corinthians, “Love seeks not its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5) which eliminates or limits selfishness. He also said on another occasion that we should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). In all this emphasis on history, truth, memory and communication there should be “rejoicing” in the truth. John Piper has an interesting comment about this important point— “We should let this joy free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us indifferent to the good of others. Love does not seek its own private, limited joy, but instead seeks its own in the good—the salvation and edification—of others.”
There are many things that we need to do as individuals. We need to encourage others in their thinking about history; our personal history and our corporate history as a nation. We all have a history, real and remembered. We should respect that history, stress its remembrance and emphasize the lessons that we should learn from it. This is another reason that we need to think about who and what we are, individually and corporately. We are not alone and isolated. God will judge us, not just as individuals, but as social beings, agreeing or disagreeing with what we are. We need one another. Let me hear from you on what you think about the reality of truth; about valuing people and establishing relationships with others, particularly those less fortunate then us. What do you think? Share your thoughts with me at email@example.com . You may also reach me by “snail” mail at Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P. O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671. Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and a retired university professor