the myth of “the wrong (or right) side of history”

Yesterday I was listening to people talking about the news of the week, when I heard someone say confidently in regard to a controversial issue that there is a wrong side of history. I guess especially in political circles, but actually beyond that (doesn’t politics swallow up everything?), this is a popular saying. It may be popular, but that doesn’t make it apt.

Myths come from the stories we tell. The myth may be true or not. We live by them; they can give impetus as well as structure to our lives. And whether or not its basis is sound, it becomes true to us. So that we end up making judgments on a “truth” we take for granted, which may be based on a faulty premise of belief.

Instead of confidently applying such a notion, people ought to pause and step back and really examine what they are saying. “The wrong (or right) side of history” based on what? And just what might be the motivation behind the call?

It would be far better to simply talk about the differences as a matter of fact and sort out from that why they exist. Those who so confidently assert a side of history with equal confidence that they are on the right side of it are every bit as religious in their belief as the people of religion or faith they may be (and often are) ridiculing. For example the naturalists who claim that faith can’t be taken seriously as a truth claim are themselves making a statement of faith when they say that. People need to humbly step back and examine what they are saying. If they are going to be humble and therefore truthful.

Maybe we ought to reject this phrase and notion entirely. Is there an elite out there which knows just where history came from and where it is going, and in the light of that, how we should live? To sort out the morass even in the present of such claims (and counter claims from those who are equally confident), and the mind boggling complexities any serious historical study will uncover in the human enterprise, not to mention all the uncertainties which surround it, leaves us with a certainty that we can’t really be certain. Or at least whatever certainty we might have should be tempered with the knowledge of the limitations inherent in such an endeavor. Read the book of Ecclesiastes with this thought in view (one of my favorite go to books of the Bible, by the way).

We who hold to the faith that is in Jesus do believe there is rhyme and reason that is discovered soley in Jesus and God’s revelation in him. A revelation which ends up being nothing less than good news, which is what gospel means. And we bank our lives on that, indeed life itself, which includes the world. But we do so knowing that there’s so much we don’t know, that we really don’t undertand well or get at all. As Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

If people want to keep this phrase as a way that makes sense of the world for them, they need to admit and explain their basis for such confidence. Just as we ourselves who as the church profess to live in King Jesus will do in terms of God’s will made known in and through him.

The church has indeed often gottten it wrong in many places such as the slavery and racism of recent centuries. We are not foolproof and we ought to be an example in acknowledging that. But neither are we in a hopeless abyss.

God in the Person of the Son did step into history in becoming a human being to take the needed judgment that brings salvation on himself, so that humankind along with all creation can flourish in a God-breathed and ordered existence of love. The beginning of that we have received in the start of this new life. Of which we would say, “Come and see. And taste and follow.”

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