The God of Here-and-now is also the God of History and of Tomorrow. A benefit derives therefore from the study of history, no less than the Word of God itself. History ought to be the general framework of knowledge, its themes and threads central to proper reasoning and helpful reflection. History is literally his story, that is to say the story of man. As such, history records the creature’s journey and is a story constantly unfolding, an unfolding mankind through the rise and fall of civilizations—ours no less than others. Out of the birth, growth and decline of individual and national lives, development of humanity occurs and is manifested through history in the alternating leadership among individuals and nations. Further, the story of freedom unfolds with humanity, as perhaps the most central thread in history, from conflict through the millennia between the voices of conscience and the corrupting influence of power in church and state. Historical truth must surface, including the dark side of human failure in every institution whatever. Which is not to say that essential claims will not be vindicated, that historical truth and the truth that sets men free don’t coalesce, as indeed we may expect them to.
Just as we sometimes fail to see the grand scheme of things, we may certainly fail to see those things directly in front of us. If losing the forest for the trees is more common, we may also lose the trees for the forest. In warfare there are tactical and strategic levels, and the skills and the vision required for each aren’t the same. You may win most battles but lose the war—you can lose every meeting engagement and still wind up winning. The reality supplies endless hope or endless despair, however you choose to interpret it. Likewise, we often misinterpret the scale of things and call one thing large and another small, when I suppose everything must be rather puny from the divine perspective, or perhaps all equally essential and morally gigantic. Don’t dismiss the greatness there upon a humble stage, or present there in a classroom, at the courthouse, or quietly lying in a manger. Don’t overlook the cosmic significance of love about the hearth. Take stock of the epic marches in your life.
In terms of freedom, to paraphrase Lord Acton, liberty is the delicate fruit of mature civilization, beset in every age by its natural enemies: ignorance, superstition, the lust of conquest and the love of ease, by the strong man’s craving for power and the poor man’s craving for necessity. By liberty, Acton referred to the assurance that every man would be protected in doing what he believed his duty, against the influence of authority and majorities, custom and mere opinion. For him it meant peaceful reign of conscience, with considerable diversity of approaches to living. He admired the federated republic in America that allowed this. Yet perhaps we beg the question, why liberty and what it has to do with the God of History. It is that the history of freedom in religion and freedom in politics are inseparably linked. Liberty, as Acton said, “is the essential condition and guardian of religion.” Liberty is not a means to some higher political end; rather, liberty is the highest political end. Spirit has the rest, which desires only its access to the conscience of freemen. We forget at our peril the story of “the deliverance of man from the power of man.” For what was gained at great cost yesterday may be swiftly lost today, without the eternal vigilance of which Jefferson wrote.
Moreover, concerning another pitfall prevalent in history, we sometimes mistake the book for its cover or the content for its shell. The fragile though enduring struggle for freedom is sustained by underlying spirit of every man’s quest. Take stock of the epic marches in your life, and also examine the institutions that surround you, whether they have become more deception and illusions. For as Lord Acton records, “their virtue depends on the ideas that produce and on the spirit that preserves them, and the form may remain unaltered when the substance has passed away.” Is Congress the wise and deliberative body it was set up to be? Is the Presidency still an open, honest Tribune of the People? Is the Constitution venerated by all political sides as secular holy writ, the way it once was? Decay in a republic reflects private decay in citizens and families, as personal responsibility and character wane. History does not always have to repeat itself, but unfortunately, it very often does.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he ran for U.S. Congress (TX-District 31) in the 2004 Republican Primary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.