Some more trinitarian theory of history

[My “trinitarian theory of history” was originally posted on The Adopted Life in November 2009, and I want to re-post it here today, and then update it with some new thoughts at the end]

Whether our theology is good or bad, it illumines (or darkens) every field of human knowledge.  For example, take History…

Human theologizing tends to be preoccupied with Power—who has it and who doesn’t.  The main consensus has been that an individual named ‘god’ has all or most of the power in the universe, and that humans have little or none.

When we approach history from this angle, the relevant question is: “Which historical individuals have been the most successful at bearing this god’s image—hoarding and wielding power over and against other individuals?”  For this reason, our history books are chronicles of people who more-or-less succeed at using violence to control other people.  Our children learn history as a mind-numbing progression of kings, armies, weapons, and treaties, and the dates on which each one occurred.

But what if history’s true God is not as preoccupied with power as we are?  What if the true God is not an individual seeking to subdue other individuals?  What if the universe lives and moves and has its being in the field of self-giving love shared between free persons?

If we approach history from THIS angle, we would surely be aware of wars and kings, but we would understand these intrigues as part of the SETTING of the human drama, but not as the drama itself.  Notice how many lines in the gospels are devoted to the Caesars.

When we understand where the true drama lies, different questions become relevant:  “In what ways have human communities imaged the Triune Life over time?  In what ways has their many-ness danced with their one-ness?  In what ways did the great live in solidarity with the small?  In what ways was this community ‘haunted’ by its true self in Christ?  In what ways did the Triune Life earth itself in this or that human community?  In what ways did the human community resist this earthing?  What consequences did they experience as a result?  What can we learn from their experience?”

I still like this take on history, but I’d like to add a little bit to it… Because the question arises: Which communities are worth looking at, thinking about, and talking about? The most natural answer to me is: “The big communities.”  That tells me I’m still falling into the same old trap of believing that Power is what it’s all about, because big communities are powerful communities.

For example, if I were to write a history of how the Triune Life was earthed in Orange County, California in the 1990’s, my first impulse would be to write about Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.  But I think if I had my head on straight, I would see that it would make at least equal sense to write about Mrs. Betty Johnson on East Birch Street who spends her days taking care of her mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s. That two-person community matters as much as Saddleback’s umpteen-thousand-member community.

I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps a properly trinitarian history should be able to zoom in as well as it zooms out.  Both micro and macro.  Both the many and the one.  The best example I’ve seen of this kind of “micro-history” is National Public Radio’s “Story Corps” project, where everyday people tell the stories that are significant to them.

I believe that if we are to think properly about history in a world in which Father, Son and Spirit are earthing their life-together, the “little” stories must be as prominent as the big ones.

What do you think?

7 comments so far

  1. Nan Kuhlman on

    Your “micro vs. macro” approach makes sense, because the Triune God is relational, and relationships usually occur in smaller groups. As for the importance of what we do for God or the size/success of our community, I guess I need to remind myself that I don’t have to do anything to be important, or worthy, or prominent in God’s sight. Although I still have trouble understanding it, a person who is in a near vegetative state (like my mother-in-law) is still of infinite value to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She is unable to communicate and relies on others for all her care, yet she is just as important as I am or as Rick Warren is to our Heavenly Father.

  2. janehinrichs on

    I agree — the stories of people’s lives will show us God as much if not more than those big stories.

    • Jane, it’s amazing how much of a struggle it is for me to believe this, but I do think it’s probably true. My challenge is to let God make me significant in his own way.

  3. As I progress beyond young adulthood, it’s dawning on me that I’m not really that big a deal. The world is not my oyster anymore. This is honestly a real crisis for me. But I am trying on this idea that my significance is not measured by how often my name appears in history books.

  4. Jerome Ellard on

    This is a great post. “History” (and “the News”) miss out on the billions of ways the Triune life of God is working itself out in the lives of people everywhere, every day. We hear about the terrorist constructing a new and improved “underwear bomb,” but we don’t hear about the millions of moms singing their babies to sleep every night.


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