Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying, “Those who don't learn from history are destined to repeat its mistakes.” While this has proven to be true, I would venture to add that learning from history provides a multitude of other benefits as well.
Learning from history follows a biblical principle
Christians, of all people, should appreciate the value of history, because the majority of the Bible itself contains history. God even tells us why all that history is in His Word. In 1 Corinthians 10:6, after briefly recounting aspects of Israel's history, Paul says, "Now these things have become our examples." This thought is repeated throughout the New Testament (2 Peter 2:6, James 5:10, Romans 15:4). Yes, everything in Scripture is intended to showcase God's redemption through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but God also makes it clear that history is intended to serve as an example to us, that we might learn and apply lessons to our own lives. Therefore, it is biblical to study and learn from the past.
Learning from history keeps us from losing perspective
We live in an increasingly trend-driven, live-for-the-moment culture. Sadly, this makes us increasingly ignorant not only of the past in general, but our own rich heritage as believers. We run the risk of becoming narrow-minded and shallow, unable to understand and connect with those outside of our cultural parameters. What’s more, we may become entitled and spoiled, not appreciating the great sacrifices that our Christian forefathers made to bring us where we are today.
The loss of perspective that results from neglecting history is seen not only individually, but nationally as well. In western nations that have removed their Christian heritage from the education system, we find a sharp increase in agnosticism and even atheism, such that the majority of the population no longer even believes in God. Clearly, studying history—and our Christian heritage in particular—is vital to maintaining proper perspective.
Learning from history enriches our lives with inspiration
This is perhaps one of the greatest individual and personal benefits of learning from history. One of the most inspiring and encouraging chapters in the Bible is Hebrews 11, which recounts how God moved and worked through men and women of the Old Testament who put their faith in Him. Yet the story doesn’t end there! All throughout history, God has continued to move and work in remarkable ways through those who simply make themselves available to Him. The stories of men and women like Martin Luther, Hudson Taylor, William Wilberforce, Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael stand as testimonies to us that the God who worked mightily on their behalf is the same God we serve today! Through ups and downs, through weaknesses and flaws, through steps of faith and boldness, we are given the opportunity to learn from and apply the lessons of their lives to our own. Truly, one of the greatest ways to challenge and inspire us as believers is to learn about the lives of those who have gone before us in the faith.
Each of us is in the process of writing our own “history,” both individually and collectively, as part of the body of Christ in this generation. The way we choose to write our history now can be greatly enhanced and benefited by learning from those who have gone before, by developing an appreciation of our Christian heritage.