I was once told by a history prof that “there is no room for metaphysics in history.” I disagree! If the job of a historian is to do more than simply collect facts but also to make sense of them then history must enter the realm of metaphysics. And this means history may be used and abused.
History has always been twisted by evil men to justify their actions. Nazi historians wrote long ‘scholarly’ articles that tried to prove that the Aryan race was the most pure and powerful of all the races and that Christianity actually had its roots in Aryan civilization instead of Semitic. In similar fashion, Mao used naive western journalists to whitewash the dark history of the Chinese Communist Party and transform the Long March into a propaganda piece. Mussolini drew on the glories of the Roman empire to justify his expansion into Africa. Ahmadinejad denies the holocaust in order to justify his vitriol against the Jews.
There is something remarkable – and all together unnatural – about the history found in the Old Testament. Compare the history of Israel to any other national history and you will immediately notice that theirs is uniquely a history of failure! In the Exodus account alone, Israel is said to have tested God eleven times in the desert. Even the most significant failures of Israel’s greatest kings are preserved in painful detail. However, in the Hellenistic period some religious groups in Israel began to revise their history somewhat. The Book of Jubilees, for example, written early in the 2nd century, revised OT history to remove some of the more glaring scandals. It was this kind of historical revisionism that John the Baptist warned the religious leaders of his day against.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Matthew 3:7-9
There has been a lot of talk about American exceptionalism lately. Gingrich referred to it in his victory speech in South Carolina in the context of the Federalist Papers, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Ginrich and others are trying to shore up patriotism but they miss what it is that makes any nation special. What is the point in saying, “We have John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as our father!” Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
The only thing that makes a nation exceptional is the degree to which it experiences and reflects the grace of God. The only healthy kind of patriotism is the kind that results in deep humility and gratitude to God. Everything else is hubris.