Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The myth of history

English is one of the few languages that attempts to distinguish "story" from "history" as if it is possible to tell a purely factual objective history of an event. In fact, so-called historians select from thousands of details to create a narrative. Even when they claim to present both sides, what human being can know the heart of another, can know all of the people involved, and all their motivations?

Is there a history of the world? Yes. But only God knows it, because only God knows every detail and every heart. Only God has all the facts of any story. And we would do well to remember this when we watch the news or read the paper.

The Bible makes no claim to be history in our modern American sense. It is a theology book. The Book of Exodus is the story of how God brought his people from slavery to freedom. It purpose is to show how God touched their lives, and how God worked in the world for them so that we might better understand how God works today.

In the first reading today we are told that Pharaoh's whole army was following the people of Israel, and perished in the sea. Statistically, it is probably an exaggeration? Yes. But what they are doing is telling how it felt. To the people of Israel it felt like the whole army was chasing them.

When we read these stories the question we must ask is not is it true, in the modern historical sense. But what is the truth or truths God is trying to communicate to us through this story.