How can a Christian accurately interpret the intent of God in the events of history? And if ever he may, upon what basis?
In answer to the first question we must reply that the Christian cannot always correctly interpret the events of history. Many professing German Christians made a tragic misinterpretation of the rise of Adolf Hitler. These Germans viewed the führer as a God-appointed leader and savior from their difficult state of affairs. But what a disastrous disillusionment was to come! This example underlines the dangers of attempting to read God’s purposes from historic events. Anyone can prejudicially interpret the intent and purpose of an event wrongly.
Apart from God’s Word, historical facts themselves do not permit man to draw final, accurate conclusions. This is an argument from the prophets in reference to the Exodus. Over and over again, God chastised the Israelites with the preface, “I am the Lord Thy God Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Indeed, no sooner had they left the pagan cities, the very people God had set free from their miserable life of slavery began to misinterpret the events surrounding their journey to the promised land. When they encountered danger “…they said to Moses, ‘Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way bringing us out of Egypt? [i] ’” Not to know the God Who revealed Himself in the Exodus is not to know Him in the fullness of His revelation. Even in the central event in history, the cross of Christ, requires an revealed explanation from God if it is to be interpreted correctly. A faulty understanding of Christ’s earthly ministry and death by two disciples led them to doubt and utter despair [ii].
All events of history are related to the unified plan of the sovereign God and are correctly understood only within the interpretative framework of His Word. History must be viewed from the norm of the Bible, not from any human selection of concrete events. Failure in this manner has given rise to many misinterpretations of historical events. For example, Jesus rebuked the Jews for wrongly supposing that the cause of a recent mass murder was due to the victims’ sins [iii]. The Lord cautioned His listeners not to make ill use of these and similar current events. In another instance Jesus corrected His disciples for mistakenly concluding that a man’s blindness was inflicted due to some heinous crime [iv]. These and other calamities were not due to the causes which men believed. The infallible interpretative word of Christ assigned quite a different explanation. Gamaliel’s advice in Acts 5:38-39 was poor also because it assumed that special providence can be deduced from a course of events.
Isaiah writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired; His understanding is inscrutable [v].
[i] Exodus 14:11
[ii] Luke 24:13-21
[iii] Luke 13:2
[iv] John 9:1-4
[v] Isaiah 40:28