The Failure of History
by John UpChurch
To their credit, my two little girls sat patiently as the Cherokee peace chief explained his slit ears, metal breastplate, and high-heeled shoes. On the table in front of him sat a rifle, swan feathers, a clay mug, and other shards of the past. This is exactly what I love to do on a Saturday morning.
You see, I love the way history feels because I’m something of a nostalgia junky. The narratives that draw together people, locations, and wars latch onto me. The connections that run through mountains, rivers, and small towns dig under my skin. The history of grace absorbs me.
I have to be careful, though. Otherwise, I’d spend too much time living back there and not paying attention to grace here and now.
There’s something in history that we often overlook. Sure, learning about the past supposedly keeps people from repeating mistakes (though I’ve yet to see that be the case). And we need to see where we’ve come from, to understand the ebbs and cycles in the story of civilization. But it’s more than that.
History—much more than just a learning tool—is the story of human failure. If that sounds morbid, it is. The big picture of our history is how humans have failed to love, failed to live up to God’s standards. There are tiny currents that push back against the raging waters of failure (and those are some great stories to focus on), but the overall direction has been clear.
What we learn, if we care to glance back, is that humanity has no chance—that is, no chance apart from grace. Our history lays bare the need for a raw, relentless love. We’ve stumbled and scrambled, fought and exiled. And yet no amount of human effort has ever satisfied the searching, the wanderlust. We’ve pushed on, pressed on, killed on. And never reached our goal.
But always there is God. The history we have points to the sparks He created in the darkness, the fires He kindled in the tragedies. Always there is God, appearing where you least expect. Always there is God, breaking through.
I love history because God’s there in the midst of our failures. He never lets go; He never disappears.
Intersecting Faith & Life: One reason I always challenge others to keep a journal or a blog is because it gives us all a place to record our own histories. It’s a place where we can see the pursuing love of God as He picks us up from our failures and loves us anyway. It’s a place to learn from past mistakes. Take a moment today to capture your own story and keep at it. You’ll always be amazed at the grace that shimmers through.