Christianity and Gettysburg - Really?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, June 22, 2014 0 comments

by Michael Homula

When Jason DeZurik and I first began to sort out what God might have planned for the Biblical Truth at Gettysburg ministry at Worldview Warriors, I was stirred deeply. I had been leading men to Gettysburg for nearly 10 years on mini-retreats and they were fun, educational, spiritually enlightening and just great fellowship. But, I knew they could be so much more.

When I started writing this series, I shared that it was my heart’s desire to be in conversation with Christians about the extraordinary events and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ during the days leading up to, during, and after the epic Battle of Gettysburg. In this conversation, it is my earnest hope, we will find ourselves challenged to live out our faith in a more actionable and effective way.

As Christians, if we are ever to think with discernment and wisdom about the American past, in this context Gettysburg, it is imperative that we learn good historical thinking skills. The first step to thinking historically is understanding the difference between the “past” and “history”. It is a critical difference.

The past is everything that humans have said or thought or done until now. The past is almost infinitely vast and intensely complex. We are only afforded blurred glimpses or vague shadows of the past – that is all that has survived. History, on the other hand, is the effort to piece together the evidence that remains in order to make sense of the past. I like Christian historian John Lukacs’ simple definition of history as the “remembered past.”

History presents us with a nearly infinite storehouse of compelling human stories, but I am convinced that if the study of history is to be truly educational and spiritual, it must be much more than that. An educational and spiritual study of history, a Christian historical view if you will, must alter the way we think, challenge our hearts and change who we are. Our encounter with the past, with those people who lived during the Battle of Gettysburg and the events surrounding the epic struggle of the Civil War, should be a relentless quest for a heart of wisdom - “a conversation with the dead about what we should value and how we should live,” (David Harlan). As Christ followers, we can’t settle for less. Genesis 32 tells how Jacob wrestled with God the whole night through, telling the Lord, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” (v. 26). I can’t begin to fully uncover the depth and intent of that story’s meaning, but I think of it often when I walk the fields and study the people, places and events that forever changed our nation at Gettysburg. Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury and an accomplished historian, encourages us to believe “that there will always be gifts to be received from the past.” We must seek them persistently and relentlessly. Like Jacob, we must resolve not to let go until the Lord has blessed us.

I am NOT suggesting that we pray for special revelation from God, asking him to disclose hidden meanings from the past. I can find nothing in scripture that the Holy Spirit will reveal American history to us but the Bible is clear that the Spirit is given in order to convict us of “sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). The purpose of wrestling with the past, again in this context the people and events at Gettysburg, until the Lord blesses us is to study history in such a way that it ultimately exposes our hearts. Our ultimate aim is not to simply understand the past for its own sake or vainly attempt to distill lessons from the past that help us get what we want in the present. No, our ultimate goal is to see both God and ourselves more clearly, to the glory of God and for our sanctification.

The goal is to get wisdom. As Proverbs 4:7 puts it, “Wisdom is the principal thing.” If wisdom is our goal, we must figure out how to scrutinize the past so that it will lead to a more intense and Godly scrutiny of our hearts in light of God’s Word. This is exactly what it means to have a Christian historical view. To think about history as Christ followers.

The weight and intensity of the past at Gettysburg is jarring. It is palpable. You can see it, hear it, feel it, taste it and smell it as you walk the fields. It is not easily described and unless you have been there you can’t fully appreciate it. When we walk the battlefield we can feel the nearly tangible presence of the 170,000 men who clashed there, and the 2,200 inhabitants of Gettysburg who dealt with the aftermath. I don’t mean literally that their spirits hover there (despite the ridiculous number of “Gettysburg Ghost Tours” that exploit the hallowed ground financially). There is something deeply spiritual about walking the ground of a famous historical event. Walking over the ground at Gettysburg, “heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for us”, connects us to those whose footsteps we follow.

It is an experience that will jolt us out of our own narrow frame of reference. Just ask Jason. Gettysburg, the landscape and the stories of the men and what they did there, has a way of suddenly making us feel small. That is a good thing because an integral component of wisdom is self-knowledge, and self-knowledge ought to lead to great humility.