Past, Present, Future
The Christian gospel is often condensed into a story that affirms the basics of the faith: God loves us and has a wonderful plan for us. But we have sinned and are therefore separated from God. Jesus Christ on the Cross is the answer to our predicament, and if we will accept him as our personal savior, we will have eternal life.
Though accurate in what it highlights, such a simplified presentation can wrongly convey much about the gospel, not the least of which that the idea that the gospel is primarily about individual fulfillment and satisfaction. “God loves YOU and has a wonderful plan for YOU.” “Live up to your potential and embrace your best life!” Such a shortened story seems to place Christians in the center of the message and not Jesus.
On the contrary, the heart of both the Old and New Testaments is the fulfillment of God’s creative plan. The story of human redemption is God’s complete and multifaceted movement among history and people and nations. It cannot be reduced to mere highlights without compromising the story. What about the resurrection of Christ? What about his return and the promise of our own resurrection? What about the ascension? What about the new heaven and new earth? What about the kingdom present and among us? There are many books that make up the story of God among us, all of which tell a part of a great and magnificent story.
The Christian faith is rooted in thousands of years of the history of humanity, and it is this foundation that makes Christianity so relevant to everyone, both individually and corporately. The person of Christ and the salvation He offers are meaningful to us today because Jesus is historical. He is the same today, yesterday, and forever.
In contrast, many other systems of belief hold history as something that is cyclical. After someone dies, he or she is thought to be reincarnated or rebirthed. As a result, history seems of little significance or meaning. Events are merely occurrences.
For Christians the reverse is true. Our faith is defined by significant events in history. The past and the future are momentous because they greatly inform the present. While the past offers both perspective and purpose for our current situation, the future gives us hope and meaning. No matter what we are going through today, this, too, shall one day pass. Promised is the future that is hinted at in history. There comes a day when all tears will be wiped away, a time of unhindered fellowship with God.
Yet today, regardless of worldview or religion, we seem to be unfortunately suffering from historical amnesia, where we have lost our interest and understanding of history. As evidenced in the popularity of fictitious histories, the fascination with purportedly long-lost gospels, or the contentedness with a lack of historical perspective entirely, history has little existential meaning for us. This historical climate affects the way we perceive truth in relation to reality.
The message of Christianity stands counter to this climate, proclaiming the acts of God in human time and space. For believers in a savior who lived and died and rose, history is imperative; it is a significant part of one’s identity. God has been working out God’s plan for thousands of years, first through the nation of Israel and now through the body of Christ. Where Christ is professed crucified, where his resurrection is proclaimed, we are remembering the historical character of faith, which in turn echoes the all-encompassing love of God. Where the invitation to follow Christ is accepted, we proclaim a narrative that encompasses past, present, and future. We proclaim in finite stories the one who was and is and is to come.
This post was written by I'Ching Thomas.