What History Teaches Us

You have probably heard someone say [or maybe you’ve said it yourself], “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — or something similar. This was originally attributed to philosopher George Santayana, and numerous people have echoed the warning through the years. It is more than just a quotable quote or — in today’s lingo — a good sound bite; it is wisdom that is worthy of heeding.

Just about 90 years ago, this country was in the beginning of what came to be called ‘The Great Depression.’ Here are a few statistics to think about:

From 1929–1933, production at the nation’s factories, mines, and utilities dropped by more than 50%.

Disposable incomes dropped 28%.

Stock prices dropped 90% off pre-crash values.

The number of unemployed Americans rose from 1.6 million in 1929 to 12.8 million in 1933. By 1933, nearly one in four (24.9%) were unemployed.

Add to those shocking statistics the fact the infamous ‘Dust Bowl’ hit the Midwest and lasted throughout the 1930s, and it is not a stretch to say millions of people in this country were hit hard by The Great Depression, and life was extremely difficult for a good portion of society. But despite those extremely difficult years, many citizens endured and came through it all with a little more wisdom, tenacity, and a determination to simply make life work, no matter the circumstances. The vast majority of government programs we have now simply did not exist then, and people looked to themselves and to one another to make it through hard times.

If you have had the blessing of listening to some of those who weathered those times, you probably learned a thing or two about persistence, hard work, and maybe even a word or two about putting your faith in God to provide. Back then, more people actually believed in God and, though they may not have always lived up to His standards, they more often than not recognized His ways were the standard. Belief in God got a lot of people through some very difficult times.

I have long said that if such a situation should happen again, we, as a country, would not fare so well. Morals have declined or are simply non-existent; violence is seen as a ‘solution’ to problems; robbery, looting, and theft are now seen as ‘justifiable’ because of one’s perceived poverty [we are, on average, far richer materially than we were in 1930, with many more conveniences and luxuries that did not even exist then]; politics divides us with greater passion, vitriol, and anger than existed then; and I don’t have to tell you that far fewer people even believe God exists, let alone that His word is the standard in all things. These are not factors that bode well for society to respond to a crisis in a way that will have a positive end. Events in the last few months have borne that out.

So, what can history teach us, and why should we care? Well, to answer that, we should go back a bit farther in time and consider the historical record of the Bible, and some principles that apply to every nation of every era. If we are willing to honestly consider and then apply these principles, we will be able to face whatever comes our way with courage and resolve and something this world can never offer: hope.

What Make A Nation Great. Politicians have long promised to make this country ‘great’ or ‘great again’; this isn’t anything new. Neither are their failures to bring such promises to reality. The problem is, those politicians [and the people who naively believe they will actually do what they say] are looking for greatness where it won’t be found. Our materialistic society is looking for greatness as measured by material prosperity, the amount of material goods they possess, and the availability of material comforts and conveniences to any who desire them.

But God’s word tells us plainly that a nation’s greatness is not measured in material terms at all! No, God’s word tells us, Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). It is not material wealth and prosperity that determines whether or not we are a great nation, but our spiritual condition! When a nation craves the unrighteous, approves and venerates sin itself and the ungodly of society, and demands the ‘right’ to indulge in whatever carnal pleasures they desire without any shame, any consequences, or any accountability, we are not a great nation at all; we are a disgrace! Only when we truly seek — and then practice — righteousness will we ever be great again.

Israel could be the prime example to demonstrate this but, in reality, any country with a long history would demonstrate this truth. Keep in mind that “great” [to God] does not mean materially wealthy or militarily superior. Christians need to wake themselves from their spiritual stupor and quit allowing society to dictate to us what makes us ‘great’ and instead tell them what God says about it — because He is the ultimate Judge of what is, or is not, great. Let us be honest enough to examine history and see what made nations great was their stand for what was good and righteous and just, and that it is when a nation turns to self-indulgence, and allows unrighteousness, injustice, and inequity to persist that such a nation begins its downward slide into insignificance and oblivion.

Faith Over Fear. Politicians play on the fears of their constituency to gain attention and support for their ‘programs’ and ‘solutions’ [‘solutions’ to problems they most likely created]. But it isn’t just politicians who play on the fears of people to gain attention; they just happen to be the ones who are most prominently doing it! Scientists play on our fears to garner support for their ‘solutions’ to environmental issues, or to push for medical and biological experimentation and research; salesmen play on fears to get us to buy something newer and, thus more reliable; and on and on it goes.

Many years ago, even after God had told Israel that Canaan was theirs for the taking, some looked at the inhabitants and decided, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:31). The writer of Hebrews would look back at this scene and the subsequent failure of the majority to enter into the Promised Land, noting, “they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19); they lacked faith in God and His promise to give them the land, and they allowed fear to rule their hearts, instead.

As this nation turns more and more away from God and chooses instead to live a truly godless life, it will only get more violent, more unjust, more perverse, and less tolerant of those who are striving to live according to the will and words of God. If you are fearful now, you won’t like what this nation will look like in the coming months and years as the moral decline continues. With no moral standard, society will see no reason for restraint on any level.

But we do not have to live in fear. Noah survived a flood; Daniel survived a den of lions; Joseph survived his brothers! And so it is true: “But the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). Steven Harper