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.History Backwards? Michelle Shares a Freeing New Way of Seeing History
(First published in TEACH Magazine)
How is it possible that all those years I sat in school as a Christian girl—even when in Christian school—it never occurred to me that I had it backwards?! I seemed to be doing the right thing; my teachers were pleased and grades were good.
Yes, I was going with the program. Day after day, year after year in my history classes, I learned of famous people and their deeds, as had my teachers before me. So did you, most likely. We may not remember the details now, but one thing was pushed deeply and unforgettably into our knowing…a thing so powerful, that most of us reflexively think and act in accord with it every time we address history.
This thing was never spoken. It didn't need to be. No one had to tell us what history was. It was made obvious through the very nature of our history classes, which were all about people and their actions. Humans were the stars in the pageant of history. The stage was theirs alone. There could be no doubt: history was the story of mankind. Behold the power of people!
Imagine my surprise, then, when the Lord sent a percolating question: If people didn't create themselves or the world they walk upon, how could they be the prime force of history? Why, He was implying that I did declare humans prime! I had to probe my mindset, for such an audacious statement surely didn't fit with my theology. I knew God was Lord and King. But when it came to history, I found I’d had Him being Lord and King in the back room while humans were in the Great Hall making it all happen.
"Certainly," I plied my children with the well-used phrase, "history is HIStory." But we spent our days and years of homeschool history as I had done as a student: meeting one powerful person after another. When it was time to schedule a history unit or purchase resources I thought of what people we would study.
I wouldn't let Evolution anywhere near our homeschool biology because it defiantly seeks to expunge the primary and powerful role of God from science, saying the universe shaped its own existence and acts of its own accord. Why hadn't I noticed I was almost identically expunging Him from our history classes?! By the very nature of our emphasis, by our lop-sided diet of meet-the-culture books, by the way I had to awkwardly 'tack on' mention of God to the biography that was really our central focus, I was unintentionally casting humans as the center of history.
Actually, I'm not confessing pointedly enough. Stripped bare, the very purpose of our history had been knowing more about people. And all the while I was teaching history that way, I was worried, worried, worried... Would my children know God?
Would they be sure of God's reality? Of His power in the past, present, and future? Would they fully believe the biblical truths they were taught at church and in our devotions? Would those truths ever seem connected to real life? It never occurred to me that history was a prime opportunity to teach them... to parade those truths convincingly!
Now, the light bulb was coming on. The real reason for history was first to know more about God, to see what He had revealed about Himself, what truths He had imparted, to see how He had worked with mankind... and to realize He is doing all that even still!
What more could we parents ask for?! Yes, history puts our children in the honorary review box, and before them parades convincingly God's reality and rightness throughout the ages. First marches His goodness; we see that, in His love, whenever His truths are sought and honored there is a bubbling up of freedom and of prosperity (in its fullest sense). Marching second is the humbling realization that where He and His truths are rejected... well, even such a sad story is impactful too. Amazingly, our privileged students can see His proofs in history every day, for human acceptance of God brings blessing, and rejection brings disaster. Spiritual truth and freedom will always be the precursor to political truth and freedom, economic truth and freedom, social truth and freedom, etc.
With all these God-sized riches, why had I previously set my sons only to memorizing human-sized terms, names, dates, and details... so I could mark them off my to-do list after patting myself on the back?! Why were we not first seeing what God had initiated in all these areas, and only then seeing how people responded?
Initiation. That is a key word here. History, if nothing else, is the chance to show one simple thing: it is God who initiates, even human history. He did give us the awesome privilege of responding with free will, but He is the One initiating!
I wanted to start anew, and that changed the very nature of our history times. They could no longer look like the schoolroom history classes of my youth. We couldn’t cut history into little pieces, little factoids... and in the process choke out the life in them. If we were going to know more of God, to build relationship with Him—and amongst ourselves in the process—our whole history endeavor must be relational and idea-oriented. We could give ourselves time and permission to immerse in big things, to learn a new way.
We began probing down to the spiritual roots, looking for what I now call the Big 2 Beliefs: Who did each civilization believe God to be? What then, did that make mankind? I could see that those two human responses to God undergirded every other facet—big and small—of historical life. The particulars of human response—in government, economics, law, painting, architecture, literature, philosophy, science, social culture, etc.—now took on great meaning. They had depth and context! They were not just soon-to-be-forgotten factoids! We were not just collecting knowledge, but digging into wisdom!
Funny thing... my sons were thrilled! No longer necessary were silly motivations to swallow stale, superficial, factoid-based (read, dead) history with promises of a star on their papers ("Mom, stars are for girls.") This new food was alive and powerful. Turns out, they had been ravenous for the wisdom which tapped into God, His power, the lessons the past could offer them, His plan for the world, and their part in it. All those things were not only part of the past and the present…but were very much part of their future and the forces by which God shapes it! My sons could not get enough!
Now, they had something to hang on to—rather than defaulting to cynicism—when facing the shocking suffering of human history. They could honestly ask, "What had God initiated, what had He intended? And how had humans responded instead?"
This pointed up another exciting truth! Humans do play a powerful role in history, but in a different way than we had seen before. To be important, one does not have to be a headstrong Egyptian pharaoh, stiff-necked Roman caesar, or imperious Renaissance prince. We don't have to be a gutsy general or famous artist. Such have come and gone. Rather, since God is the real initiator, we each play a truly impactful role when we get on board with whatever He is doing. Scripture says many times that He moves through His church, so our part in the Body of Christ is not a 'funless' obligation, but an invitation to participate in the big stuff of this world!
Wow, what a lesson on the role of the church as one of God's tools! What a high calling for our children! What a high calling on our homeschooling! We are helping prepare our children to minister to this needy world, to "stand on the shoulders of giants," and join the yet-to-be-written history of the future!
Several of my wonderful homeschool friends began relating their similarly unfulfilled dreams for history, saying they too had wanted to dig deep, but even when reading the best literature, could not always unearth the point, as it had never been taught to them. They felt their history studies were superficial, detached, and uninsightful. They wanted drawn out quite clearly the connections between the great truths of God and the beliefs of an age... as played out in its government, wars, science, art, economics, literature, etc.
From such prompting and more (but that's a different story), TruthQuest History was born. It exists to make convenient the very type of relational discovery we've been discussing. Surprisingly brief (and conversational) bits of commentary introduce each and every topic because natural learning is a conversation between teacher and taught, not a preaching or "download" of worldview and facts. Rather, TruthQuest History subtly assists families in discovering God's truth in history. Discovering! Not passively memorizing, but actively probing as the family digs into whichever living books they devour (from our book recommendations for each and every topic, or from parent-chosen resources, since the spiritual lessons transcend particular books). We add a few strategically-placed ThinkWrite exercises to deepen synthesis and internalization, with sample answers in an appendix for parental assistance. It’s a relational and meaningful odyssey into more deeply knowing God in past, present, and future…that the family enjoys together!
He is after all—as someone has said—the Centerpiece of Civilization!