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The Meaning of History

At the heart of the Holy Bible lies a unique revelation:  That the world in general, and the Church in particular, is involved in a spiritual battle of cosmic proportions.

–Alan Morrison, The Serpent and the Cross (1994)

History in Perspective

Secular humanism sees history as the expansion and development of impersonal matter through linear time—or in the midst of infinite, but bounded, space-time.  Pantheism sees history as an illusion, an unreality that the mind or soul must, in the end, reject.  For both positions there is a dreary sameness to reality, both ontologically and ethically.  All is one, and whatever differences man may note in the apparent flow of time don’t and can’t matter in terms of any absolute standard.  There can be no good or evil.  There can be no conflict, no cosmic struggle.  All facts are equally unimportant, and all struggles are only family matters:  atom versus atom, dream versus dream.  There is no one and nothing to say in any real sense, “This is good, and this is bad,” or, “This ought to win, and this ought to lose.”

Satan’s Perspective

Secularism and pantheism are two sides of the same coin.  Both are atheistic.  They reject a transcendent and personal God.  Both assume an undifferentiated reality that develops out of itself by means of itself and finds completion in itself.  Neither allows for meaning or morality, but nonetheless both promise man greatness.  Both regularly borrow the language and formal motifs of Christian thought to promise man salvation, hope, and deification.  Both continue to tell man that he—whether as an autonomous individual or as a unit within the sovereign State—can be as God, knowing good and evil.

Of course, this was Satan’s lie in Paradise.  Satan’s opener, “You shall not surely die,” meant that there was no sovereign Creator who could carry out covenant sanctions. That reality was self-existent and beyond anyone’s definition. That right and wrong were nonsense words. That the gods were so many cosmic bullies carving out territories by terror and force.  “You shall be as God” meant that man could join the game as a real player and have a fair chance at winning.  Of course, Satan knew he was lying.

Closing Ranks

With the fall of the human race, Satan’s official philosophy of reality and history became man’s.  And for a few short minutes or hours, there was no conflict within the human family over first principles.  Yes, Adam and Eve knew that something had badly miscarried, but they had known that was a real possibility.  After all, the bully down the street might just be bigger than you.  The gods of the hills might outweigh the gods of the plains.  And Yahweh might win the first round.  So even when God came in judgment, Adam and Eve didn’t repent of their rebellion.  They tried to work the system.  They blame shifted, backstabbed, and refused responsibility:

“The woman you gave to be with me.…”

“The Serpent beguiled me….”

But they didn’t abandon their first principles.  They blamed Satan, but they didn’t reject his operational philosophy.  They treated God as if He were finite and temporal like themselves.  They still believed He could be deceived and manipulated.  They refused to believe in or bow before His sovereignty.

Yahweh Declares War

God gave Adam and Eve ample time to repent.  They didn’t.  They piled evasion upon evasion, excuse upon excuse.  They made lies their refuge.  And nothing within them was going to alter their unbelief.  Then Yahweh spoke to the serpent; that is, to Satan:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Yahweh says, “I will put enmity….”  Enmity is hostility, animosity, conflict.  God was promising that He would place hostility between the woman and the serpent.  In other words, He would rescue Eve from her apostasy and unbelief and bring her back to His side.  He would work out a means and program of salvation.  And the initiative would be His, not hers.

This enmity or conflict would extend through Eve’s seed and the serpent’s.  At this point, the language of the promise points to matters both spiritual and cosmic.  Women, strictly speaking, don’t have seed.  But then neither do fallen angels.  Clearly, anyone born into the human family from this time on would be the seed of Adam.  What was God getting at?

The Spiritual Battle Line

God was drawing a line through the human race and through human history.  Within Adam’s biological seed, within his descendants, there would henceforth be two spiritual seeds, two humanities.  One would serve Satan and live by his first principles and the other would be the born again children of God, regenerated and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Between these two seeds there would be perpetual enmity because God would guarantee it.  He would guarantee it by rescuing His elect from Satan’s kingdom and making them His loyal subjects and sons.

In making this guarantee of perpetual enmity, God was declaring ultimate and comprehensive victory.  God is promising to save humans and, indeed, to create a new humanity out of the old.  There is nothing here about saving parts or pieces of each man—as if the heart or soul or mind could be rescued and everything else human left behind for perdition.  God is promising to restore His image in man so that His new humanity can complete the work man was originally given:  to exercise dominion over Earth for the glory of God. This is a high call for stewardship in every area of life.

The enmity God promises, then, must run through all that is human:  religion, science, politics, art, industry—everything.  This enmity or antithesis must be played out in all of human life and culture.  But will there be a winner? Or only perpetual war?

The Winner Is…

Genesis 3:15 describes three levels of conflict.  Conflict between Satan and the woman. Conflict between his seed and hers. And conflict between Satan and the Seed (“He”).  This coming Seed will crush the serpent’s head. That is, He will destroy Satan in all that he is or claims to be.  This Seed will destroy the devil and his works (Heb. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:8).  In other words, the enmity that God promises works victory for the children of God through the serpent-crushing Seed.  The idea of antithesis doesn’t mean that God loses. It means that He wins—on Earth and in history.  And that victory must be as wide and deep as human society and culture.  “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25).

Conclusion

Neither secularism nor pantheism has room for a personal, transcendent God who can speak with absolute authority precisely because He possesses absolute sovereignty.  And without such a God, history, both as a concept and an academic discipline, is meaningless.

But because God is, because He stands outside of history as its sovereign Creator, history has real meaning in terms of His law and decree.  History is truly a story, one of conflict and of victory.  And this makes the study of history imminently worthwhile and God-honoring. Christians today have lost any sense of the meaning of history. The Founders knew who they were and what God has done in history. This anchored their social and political aspirations. We would do well to learn from them.

For Further Reading:

Alan Morrison, The Serpent and the Cross, Religions Corruption in an Evil Age (Birmingham, UK: K & M Books, 1994).

Kenneth L. Gentry, “Creation” in He Shall Have Dominion, A Postmillennial Eschatology (Tyler, TX:  Institute for Christian Economics, 1992).

O. Palmer Robertson, “Adam:  The Covenant of Commencement” in The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980).

C. Gregg Singer, “The Problem of Historical Interpretation,” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship, Essays in the Van Til Perspective, ed. Gary North (Vallecito, CA:  Ross House Books, 1976).

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