Muhammad Ali is quoted as saying, The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. Getting older doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but it definitely helps! So much of life is learning by doing (from riding a bicycle to parenting). The longer we live and the more we do, the more we should learn. Experience then is the art of paying attention to what’s happened in our lives and making the necessary course corrections. As the writer of Proverbs tells it, only a fool fails to learn from the past (Proverbs 10:14).
History is the collective record of our experiences. I don’t suppose there has ever been a generation that, on the whole, enthusiastically embraced the study of history. We tend to view history as warmed over nostalgia or irrelevant trivia. Either way, we prefer looking forward rather than backward. This last statement is particularly dangerous because while we are and should be forward looking, backward glances often initiate important corrections (just think of how important you rear-view mirror is in driving).
The past is a pearl, waiting to be harvested by us.
I can’t help but think how sad and impoverishing it is when disciples disregard history, whether it is recorded in Scripture or somewhere else. Our reasons may be many but our aversion is often singular. The result is that a faith that tends to be very flat and one dimensional, and comes uncomfortably close to the attitude of the fool: despising wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).
In 1 Corinthians 10:1ff, Paul set before the Christians at Corinth a panel from Israel’s history. The church at Corinth was struggling in regard to idolatry (11:14ff). Paul calls their attention to a portion of Israel’s wilderness experience. He provides a basic interpretation of that history which he expects them to be familiar with (10:1ff). He then proceeds to make the point (twice), that these events in the wilderness were recorded as examples and follows with applications for them (11:6ff,11ff). What he does isn’t brain surgery or rocket science, but it does have depth and connects their present to others’ past.
The past is a pearl but it is not to be found floating on top of the water. Neither does it conveniently wash ashore at regular intervals. Instead, it lies at the bottom, often buried beneath silt or covered with weeds. Diving for pearls is difficult work.
The lessons of history are not always self-evident. Applications aren’t always obvious and easy. We must be committed to doing the work of harvesting. We must grab a deep breath, dive down, and begin searching.
Remember, there are a lot of pearls waiting to be found.