History is always told from a certain angle or perspective. We’re told that history is written by the winners; and that the only thing we ever learn from history is that we never learn from history or that we are condemned to repeat the history we do not know! Even good history is offered from a particular perspective, no less than a good map is produced from a certain angle for a particular reason.
Rowan Williams writes, “Good history makes us think again about the definition of things we thought we understood pretty well, because it engages not just with what is familiar but with what is strange. It recognises that “the past is a foreign country” as well as being our past.”
In the context of “truth”, history can be told from multiple angles, and seeming opposites. “Well they can’t both be true!” Yes they can. I recently discovered my notes taken from an unknown place and time given by Bible scholar D. A. Carson. He spoke of the same [American] history being told in two different ways, both accurate, both true, both very different!
“ONE. America was the country that was founded by men and women who wanted to be free to worship God as their conscience dictated. Hence the pilgrim communities, the beginning of Boston. Undoubtedly there were some faults and failures, yet their dream was to ‘build a city on a hill.’ Gradually they developed towns and communities; yes there was slavery but the time came when America fought its bloodiest war to ‘set the captives free.’ Yes undoubtedly ‘Jim Crow’ (slavery/segregation, etc) continued, but we still have to remember that within the history of America, twice when Europe would have gone under, it was American might and American mettle and American arms, American blood that helped pull the disaster out of the fire. And America has been a source of so much good and encouragement. You don’t find a whole lot of people trying to get out of America – you find a whole lot of people trying to get in. And for all the sins and failures, there is so much good here isn’t there? I haven’t said anything that is untrue.
Now let me tell you that story again:
TWO. The Pilgrim Fathers came and didn’t pay much attention to the fact that there were a lot of North American Red Indians in the land, and pretty soon, as time passed, they were slaughtered in endless fighting and conflict; taking land that wasn’t really theirs. And so there are books like ‘Bury my heart at Wounded Knee’and others of that order. Oh yes, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and all of that, but African-Americans only count for two-thirds of a vote. Yes the civil war was fought to bring freedom, but nevertheless, why did ‘Jim Crow’ continue so long? Isn’t there already a deep-seated racial hatred that is pretty hard to eradicate? Yes, we did shed a lot of blood in two World Wars, but we’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes when it comes to warfare, haven’t we?
Have I said anything that’s untrue this time? Same history. And the same could be said for any and every nation on the face of the earth.
History is messy and we’re a bunch of sinners. There is greatness and there is brokenness.”
I find although this is obvious it is a helpful reminder. Two angles on the same history. I guess we wouldn’t read our CV to the Psychiatrist, neither would we pour out our inner most secrets and thoughts during a job interview. There is a place for both, and for ourselves or our families and nations, we need to be aware of both, and recognise that we are truly a messy bunch of sinners, and we are redeemed and sanctified and loved by a great and mighty God.
The God of history, and the God of us.