“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” But how does one know such a danger exists unless one already possesses an interest in, and respect for, people who lived and thought and wrote in the past? And in order to avoid this historical pitfall, the assumption must exist that people in the past actually have things to say to us that we need to know, an assumption that may not be as accepted as it once was. C.S. Lewis talked about the threat of “presentism,” the idea that our current time is the most developed and that therefore those who preceded us were somehow deficient. To the extent that still exists today—and I suspect there is quite a bit of it—the resulting attitude is probably more along the lines of Henry Ford: “History is bunk.”
But is that an appropriate or even legitimate attitude toward those who have gone on before? To demonstrate that kind of indifference, or even disrespect, for past people and events seems less like a developing sophistication and progress, and more like myopia and a lack of humility. Have we become so narcissistic that we forget we are still standing on the shoulders of giants?
In Scripture, the people of God are commanded to remember his redemptive acts in history, particularly their deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 13:3; Deut. 5:15; 7:17-19). And the psalmist writes in Psalm 77: “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old” (v. 11). The Bible itself considers the past to be important, even vital, for godly thinking and living. It is not enough to recount God’s present blessings; his faithfulness and power shown in earlier generations are to be reflected on as well, since it is God’s activities in history that are the reason for our present status as redeemed and reconciled people.
Redemptive history is important for a number of reasons. One is to remember the difference between God and ourselves. He is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sovereign. We exist for him, not he for us. We are accountable to him. We are dependent upon him for everything we need, enjoy, and far too often take for granted. We are to remember God’s great acts in history because it is the context in which our praise to him is offered.