Looking Back to Look Forward

By Ben Swift – Author of Beyond the Fish Sticker

History can be regarded by some as insignificant and irrelevant; foreign to their high-definition, technologically driven, fast-paced lifestyles. But looking back is often our only hope of avoiding the pitfalls experienced in the past.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that events from history are often reshaped into modern translations more palatable and relevant to the current cultural river of modern times.

I find it interesting to compare Children’s Bibles from different generations. You don’t have to travel far into the past to see the impacts of cultural evolution as it mutates the portrayal of the stories of old. This is never more evident than in the illustrations. Take for example many modern children’s Bible illustrations of the story of Noah and the flood account. You have a nice, friendly looking family smiling next to a few animals sticking their heads from a window of the wooden ark as it floats along a wavy sea. The next page reveals Noah standing under a rainbow that would fit nicely on any kindergarten wall. In contrast, as any child of the 70s could testify, it seemed the illustrator’s intention to keep readers up at night through the vivid portrayal of hundreds of drowning men, women and children, straining desperately to cling to any piece of rock still emerging from the rising waters.

But why is this the case? Could this be linked to a cultural shift bent on avoiding the terrifying history of God’s judgement? After all, it points so clearly to our future judgement with very real consequences to our life choices?

I have heard it said in Christian circles that we should spend our Bible reading times focusing on the New Testament as we are people of the new covenant and God is a God of love, not that cruel God of the Old Testament. But what a great shame this would be, to ignore our Jewish history, a rich theological history with so many layers to peel back, and so many truths to be learned. Surely studying the Old Testament brings a deeper understanding of the New Testament and our Christianity, despite the modern cultural stream in which we live. Let’s not avoid divinely inspired theology just to keep face with the cultural pressures of our day.

When trying to raise our Children in Christ, and in considering those new to Christ, we do them no favors in removing the realities of history in the hope that they won’t become fearful or offended. After all, doesn’t Jesus say:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).

Indeed, a healthy fear of God may not be trending on social media but we can’t just ignore the words of Jesus just because it might not complement the rainbow illustrations on kindergarten walls.

Take the Genesis account of the flood for example. Within this story there is a wealth of theological insight into God’s intentions for humanity and his creation, from the beginning of time through to the end and beyond. Let’s not turn our eyes, ears and minds away when the details of this story become difficult or even offensive. Rather, let’s listen to what God has to say, it just may be more profound and full of hope than any of us ever imagined.

When God personally seals the ark containing Noah’s family, a remnant of humanity inside, along with representative reproductive pairs of his creation declared good in his eyes (Genesis 1), we should see clearly his intentions to save his people from his inevitable judgement. As the waters of judgement rose to heights that would destroy every living thing that has breath, those whom God had sealed in the ark would be safe.

The parallels are unmistakable, those who are sealed in Christ, given to him by the Father, will be saved from the coming judgement, they are safe in the ark of Christ’s hand, a promise sealed with the sacrificial blood of Christ, saved for an eternal future in God’s restored, perfect creation. Surely, having also saved reproductive pairs of each of his creatures, it makes sense to believe that they too will be a part of this future hope.

And what about that rainbow? Maybe when we consider its real significance, we might just want to leave it on those kindergarten walls for the children to marvel at after all. The rainbow, a symbol of God’s promise never again to destroy humanity and his creation through the flood waters of judgement, brings with it an assurance that when Christ returns to judge each and every living thing, destroying evil and chaos forever, replacing it with order and perfection, there will never again be such a judgement, for the old order of things has passed away.

My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people (Ezekiel 37:27).

When Martin Luther led the reformation of the church, he made a great discovery that eventually infiltrated much of protestant Christianity: Salvation is through grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, in Christ alone. And Christ is revealed to us through the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

The Bible may be a library of a books varying widely in their genres, writing styles and history’s, but we as Christians would do well to wrestle with the inspired, theological intentions within each book. There is certainly no God of the Old Testament who sits apart from the God of the New. Just as there is one God in the Christian Faith, there is one God throughout all of Scripture, constantly revealing himself through its pages. None of it’s history is irrelevant to a heart and mind seeking to know more of Christ and his relationship with his creation.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

History is certainly a powerful teacher, one we would all do well to learn from. Theological history however, is the greatest teacher of all, having been inspired by God, revealing Christ throughout its pages and bringing us hope from beginning to end.

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