A brief thesis on history
All of human history is a saga of two competing legacies - two competing stories.
The story begins, as all good tales do, "In the beginning . . ."
That's right, the very beginning. The biblical account in Genesis tells us humankind was created, along with everything else in the universe, from nothing. Unlike one commonly taught doctrine, however, the universe was not created by nothing. ex nihilo nihil fit. In fact, everything, including humankind, was created by God. The Genesis narrative describes humanity as having a special place in creation: "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over . . . all the creatures . . . ”
The story of humankind begins simply enough: the creator God invented humanity, and crafted us in such a way that we somehow bear his image, the imago dei. Only after God created humanity did he declare his creation to be "very good." More than this imago dei, humankind was given a divine job description. Humanity's job was no less than to rule over the earth. That's right, you and I were invented to rule as God's stewards over the world, as if God were the cosmic emperor, and we his vassal kings.
You know what happens next. Adam and Eve, a garden, a snake.
If you don't know what happened, then by all means, do a Google search on Genesis 3.
In short, the first two humans were placed in a garden and given one rule. They faced a simple choice: trust their creator, obey his word, go on to live in heaven on earth, and create lots of image-bearing-vice-regent-world-ruling-babies; or they could listen to the tempter, choose to believe evil of God, and seek to supplant him as the new cosmic sovereigns. I think you know what they chose.
Ever since then, human history has been a long, sad tale of broken people breaking the earth and hurting everything on it. Vice-rulers of the world? Epic fail. You don't have to read the Bible to know that something is seriously wrong here.
On the other hand, many people believe humans are basically good. While I believe that is dead wrong, it's not hard to see why one would think that. We see evidence of goodness all around us. Everywhere we look there are beautiful things, true stories, good deeds. Human history is replete with stories of redemption, salvation, light, beauty, goodness, success.
So which is it? Is this life good or evil? What is the human legacy?
On the one hand, we still bear the indelible marks of our Creator; we all naturally try to do the things He created us to do. We make beautiful art; we work to create safe, peaceful environments; we seek to find productive vocations; we strive to find and protect whatever is good and true. For example, every society sets up some kind of moral code, or law, to protect the innocent - like children. Well, children lucky enough to escape the womb, anyway.
Which reminds me of the other hand. We are all hypocrites, failing to meet the very expectations we place on others; we know from intuition and experience that, in the right context, even the kindest, most nondescript middle-class American is capable of monstrous evil; we are dominated by countless conflicted cravings from birth, and will do whatever it takes to satisfy our urges. Even if that means sacrificing our own offspring.
To sum it up: the human species is a travesty, a caricature of what we were meant to be. We catch hints and shadows of what might have been – tastes of beauty, rumors of truth, glimpses of goodness – but we can never quite ignore reality: ours is a broken world of tasteless lust, roaring deceit, and hideous evil.
To see the full breadth of the human legacy, we have to look back to see what we have received from humanity past, and we must look forward to the inheritance promised to humanity future.
About 2,000 years ago Jesus walked on earth. Jesus was unique. Not because he was such an excellent moral teacher, or because he set such a great example of being nice. They say Gandhi did that. Heck, I'm going to try to do that (maybe not the nice part). No, he was unique because he was truly God and truly human. Jesus was the perfect human. In fact, in Romans 5 Paul calls him a second Adam. Like the first Adam, Jesus was tested; but unlike our terrestrial paterfamilias, Jesus did not fail. He went on to die on the cross, taking God's holy wrath against our cosmic treason, thereby giving us a two-part gift: his righteousness on our behalf, and full payment for our rebellion, or sin. Paul says Christians have died with Christ, and have been raised to life again with him. Now the modus operandi of God's people is to walk in newness of life – i.e. don't be evil, that's for dead people.
Citizens of God's kingdom have two great aspects of the human legacy to fulfill. First, we can walk in newness of life today. That means we can seek, create, enjoy, and exult in the good, the true, and the beautiful. There is some good in this life, and God's people should be the first to spot it and enjoy it. Second, we look forward to the restoration of all things. Things are pretty twisted here, and the only ultimate hope is that justice will one day prevail.
That just world is the legacy we look forward to.
Some wonderful day, not too long from now, Jesus is going to come and re-make the earth. His people will live on that new earth and enjoy life as God intended – the life Adam and Eve failed to step into. But we will have it better than they ever could have. You see, there is a saying: “no conflict, no story.” We may be lost in the conflict now, but only after the conflict can we look back and appreciate the resolution - the salvation.
We will not be 'righteous robots' living in a garden, like so many hobbits living in the Shire, enjoying a second-rate happiness, oblivious to the meaning of Good because they never knew Evil. No, we will enjoy that new world with the vigor of life known only by those who have been to the heart of Mordor, climbed the slopes of Mount Doom, leaned into the mouth of the volcano, and lived to tell the tale. Jesus has rescued us from the brink of hell itself. Ours is a legacy of redemption, and that will make Eternal Life sweet indeed.