The Expository Files


Understanding The Significant Past
{Reflections on my trip to Pearl Harbor}

I've just returned from a four day trip to Hawaii and the most important event during my stay was the visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the USS Arizona Monument located in the bay. I was there all day and it was a powerful and valuable personal experience.

A little after 8 am, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, a direct attack was carried out against the United States. Many incredible stories of courage and tragedy are combined and properly represented in this beautiful memorial. And the USS Arizona part of the site is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on that day.

The day I was there, people stood in line for hours and then waited under the sun to view the video presentation and be shuttled out to the undersea ruins of the USS Arizona. I saw and met people from all over the world. There were parents with their children and a few families there to grieve the loss of a loved one over sixty years after the day. The sober reflection of the visitors was obvious and my own emotions found their release.

One thought I have is, one of our top priorities should be to understand the significant past. Not everything in history holds the same significance. In our history as a nation there should be both knowledge of Pearl Harbor and recognition of what it meant. Honoring the dead and learning the many lessons that flow from the whole context of that history should be fundamental to good citizenship.

"Knowledge of history cannot be ... practically applied, and is therefore worthless except to those who have made it, in greater or less degree, a personal possession. The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control not society, but ourselves-a much more important thing." - Carl Becker, The Dial, 1915.

Understanding the significant past finds a place also in our knowledge and conduct as Christians. In fact, our existence as Christians is because of the historical facts of the cross (1 Cor. 15:1-4). New Testament writers call upon us to know, remember and learn from the past (1 Cor. 10:1-11; Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 3:1-2). What was said and written in the past is vital for us to learn and respond to today. What happened to others could happen to us. From Biblical history we discover the value of obedience and the ruin of sin. History given by the Holy Spirit's instruments (writers) enlightens us, informs us, motivates us and warns us.

History (secular and biblical) is not just a matter of handing out time lines with people, places and events. History imposes upon us the challenge to learn from the victories and mistakes of men; to take our heritage seriously and use that knowledge to form our present maturity.

Take the time to inquire and answer these questions: What is the history of my faith? What is the history of my family and nation? What can I learn from the significant past?


By Warren E. Berkley
The Final Page
From Expository Files 13.8; August 2006