Senior Sem Journal: Christian Resources for the Study of the Past

Having largely rejected a “providential” reading of history by Christians, John Fea dedicates the next chapter of Why Study History? to exploring some other ways that Christian historians might draw on theological resources. History/Social Studies Education major Sarah Ouverson (’14) counter-balanced two such resources: the belief that human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and a belief in the reality of sin.

Imago Dei (“in the image of God”) is how humans were created by God, and I think there are many valid aspects of this belief that are useful for Christian historians to contemplate. The most significant aspect that stood out to me is the idea of who do we study: not just the important political figures but people from every walk of life and culture — being created in the image of God, they all are inherently valued by God. While I agree strongly with this idea, it does not help me to make sense of the human condition fully. Throughout history we study people who have done horrific things and to understand the human condition the reality of sin is the most useful for me.

Blake, God Judging Adam
William Blake, God Judging Adam (1795) – Tate Galleries

I first like that Fea talks about the freedom of our choices because that puts responsibility on individuals for the choices they make. Fea says, “The freedom to make choices with our lives can lead us towards a life of communion with God, but it can also lead us into sin” (p. 90). Due to the Fall sin is a part of human life, “Christians believe that because of the fall, the image of God in all of us has been tarnished by sin” (90). Humans are fallen beings and while we are each valued by God, and ought to be by one another due to Imago Dei, sin is a part of the human condition that one cannot forget. In studying history a historian looks for the relationships and forces that caused an event to happen or a decision to be made and almost always, I would say, there are selfish forces at play. Fea writes, “…there are no heroes in history. While people may perform heroic acts, all humans are tainted by sin and are susceptible to acting in ways that preference themselves over others and God” (91). I think it is important to not only associate the reality of sin with the extreme villains in history but the ordinary person, and how that may have brought about a certain choice. It’s greatly helpful to remember the reality of sin when asking myself the question, ‘How could anyone have done this?’ Seeing figures such as Hitler and realizing that he is an extreme example of what the Fall meant for human beings…

A final point that resonated with me was Fea’s claim that “In the long run the most convincing histories will be those that portray their protagonists with faults as well as virtues” (92). This reminded me of the first time I had a teacher look at the perception of Americans from the opposition’s points of view. Our country does not always have noble, virtuous reasons for going into another country. Often such acts are for our country’s own gain. Thus I agree with Fea that the convincing histories will show an understanding of the faults and virtues. I see Imago Dei fitting back in here, because not only should the reality of sin be understood in the faults of people but the image of God should be seen in the virtues of people.

– Sarah Ouverson

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