We’ve Been Here Before: History Is The Best Teacher

Written by Dr. Everett Piper

In the early days of my career, one of my mentors, David McKenna, shared some simple words of wisdom that I will never forget. His advice was pretty straightforward: “The best predictor of the future is always the past.”

This was his way of saying that, barring true repentance and transformational change, people, organizations, and even countries are generally as predictable as the sunrise.

What happened in the past will inevitably happen again in the future. History is our best teacher.

In the early 1900s, the philosopher George Santayana wrote something similar. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” he said.

Approximately 40 years later, Winston Churchill stood before the British House of Commons and echoed the same. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed,” he shouted as he warned his nation of looming war.

McKenna, Santayana and Churchill were all saying essentially the same thing: Ideas have consequences. They always bear fruit, and the same ideas that led to a cultural collapse in the past will bear the same results in the future.

In other words, King Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and if we don’t learn from our history, we are little more than “fools returning over and again to our folly in the same way that a dog returns to his vomit.”

When you read the daily news, do you ever have a sense of deja vu? Do you ever feel as if we’ve been here before?

If you do, it’s because we have.

Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel, written over 2,600 years ago. As you do, ask yourself this basic question: If this happened to Israel, God’s chosen people, why in the world do we think it won’t happen to America and the rest of the Western world?

“Hear the word of the Lord. … Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you. … Wherever you dwell, the cities shall be laid waste, and the high places ruined … your idols broken and destroyed … your works wiped out.

“The end has come upon the four corners of the land. … I will judge you according to your ways and punish you for all your abominations. … Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. … Your doom has come to you. … The day is near, a day of tumult.

“None of [you] shall remain, nor [your] abundance, nor [your] wealth. … [Your] silver and gold are not able to deliver [you]. … [You] cannot satisfy [your] hunger or fill [your] stomachs. … I will turn my face from [you].

“For the land is bloody with crimes, and the city is full of violence. … Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. … The hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror.

“I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall. … I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you … and your renown went forth among the nations. … But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore. … You took your sons and your daughters … and you sacrificed them. … You slaughtered my children.

“And after all your wickedness … I stretched out my hand against you … and delivered you to the greed of your enemies. … [Even they] were ashamed of your lewd behavior. How sick is your heart?

“Because your lust was poured out … and because of the blood of your children … I will judge you. … I will bring up a crowd against you, and they shall cut you to pieces. … And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you. … Behold, I have returned your deeds upon your head.

“Not even Sodom has done as you. … You have committed more abominations than they did. … They are more righteous than you. … Be ashamed and bear your disgrace.”

So, I’ll ask again: If history teaches that not even Israel, God’s chosen people, could avoid the consequences of such rebellion, then why would we think we will be treated differently?

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Lest you think there’s no hope, however, consider some of Ezekiel’s final words to his countrymen:

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins and has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him. … Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God? Would I not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Repent lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. … For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so, turn, and live.”