Have you noticed how often people talk about how “history” will judge a particular person or society in regard to an issue? For example, a Sydney Morning Herald headline asks “How will history judge Kevin Rudd?” or investigator Robert Mueller is quoted as saying:
“I know that we will be judged in history by not only how we disrupt terrorism but how we protect the civil liberties and constitutional rights of all Americans, even Americans who don’t wish us well. We must do all these things exceptionally well.”
It seems to be a phrase I’m coming across all the time. There’s also the idea of being “on the right side of history” over particular issues.
I think there are two interesting things about this phenomenon.
Firstly, it shows that people (whether Christian or not) want or need the hope of final judgment. We can’t cope with a future where there is no accountability, no final reckoning and no ultimate judgment. We know that the judgment made by people in the present time can be biased or flawed. It’s a temporary and limited judgment. The solution is for people to appeal (confidently) to a future where there will be a right judgment of their actions.
The second interesting thing is that this ultimate judge is “history” rather than God. History is supposedly the final unbiased infallible judge. I’m sure in the past people would have appealed to God as the final judge of people or a society’s actions. But now, in our post-Christian society, his place has been taken by “history”. This could be said to be just a future versions of ourselves i.e. humanity (people don’t seem to have thought too much about the likely or inevitable future bias in history).
I think the “history as judge” concept is an example of humanity realising something true (we have an ultimate judge) but getting it wrong (God, not history, is our ultimate judge). It’s a bit like what Romans 2:15 says: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Thankfully, through God’s revelation, we know about the true judge and his day of true judgment. As Paul says in the next verse: “This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Rom 2:16). It’s a great joy to know that despite our sin we have been justified by Jesus’ blood through faith and can look forward to that day of judgement. Not because we think we’re right all the time, but because we know that his righteousness has been imputed to us.
Perhaps, if someone uses this phrase, it could be an entry point for a gospel conversation. Maybe we could ask people why it matters what history thinks? What if history itself is flawed and biased? Had they thought about a better judge: God, and where they stand with him? Would they like to learn about Jesus and potentially approach their judge without fear? I’ll give it a go if the chance arises…