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Who makes history?

April 11, 2013

By Gerlof Homan
Originally Published: November 23, 2010

In a previous Menno Notes essay, I discussed possible ways in which history may or may not move: some feel that history is a record of progress. Therefore, history is a process of linear progression, and change is equated with progress, if not perfection. This belief is rather deeply embedded in the American psyche. We traditionally believe that our world is constantly getting better, although there are many among us today who view the present and future with much concern, if not skepticism.

Others assume that history moves like a biological organism: a nation or civilization is born, then flourishes but eventually or inevitably declines or withers.

Then there are also those who see history as a spiral: civilizations flourish and decline, but after some time they may come back and reach a higher stage of development.

This time we will ask, who makes history? The answer may not be as simple as we think. There are many who feel that history is the gradual unfolding of God’s plan and all change can be attributed to a higher power. But especially in the western world with its emphasis on the importance of human reason and individualism, it is generally assumed that all history is made in the minds and hearts of humankind. It is human beings who instigate change, wage wars, stage revolutions, invent mechanical and scientific devices, and pollute and destroy the environment. For better or for worse, they are the agents of change. Such thinking does not seem to make much room for God’s role in this human drama. It is assumed that God was the creator and sustainer of this world, but was and is not actively involved in the historical process. God was the great clock winder, but no amount of prayer and supplication would move God to intervene or interfere.

This kind of belief is known as Deism, and some of our founding fathers subscribed to it in one form or another.

But this kind of do-nothing God does not satisfy our desire to know or understand. If our God is a kind and loving being, as exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, God cares, worries, and takes pride in creation. In so doing, God becomes part of our human historical process. Most likely God would also like to see history move in a certain direction, perhaps toward a perfect, or more perfect world?

How then does God interfere in human events? God does so in a mysterious and subtle way. Somehow God touches the lives of men and women, and moves them to action. However, we cannot prove or document that God actually stirs and moves. That is a matter of faith in an inscrutable but loving God. We as humans also rebel, resist and choose evil paths of destruction and hatred. Thus eventually history is often the outcome of a struggle between a persistent and patient God, and stubborn and sinful, but sometimes compassionate and creative, humankind.

I like to think that some time in this long historical process of interaction between God and us, our Creator will prevail.

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