Why You Need to Understand History

Wax models in the Map Room in the Cabinet War Rooms bunker under London, England; the room has been preserved entirely unchanged since the Second World War.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Why You Need to Understand History

Do you value the lessons of the past enough?

The value of history is understood less and less in our world. It’s an easy subject to underestimate. But the reality—becoming clearer and clearer to me personally the more I study it—is that knowing history is vital to a people’s survival.

Last summer I took my family to our campus in Edstone, England, to participate in our youth summer camp there. During the camp, our whole group took a bus into London. The two main stops on our trip were the British Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. Both destinations were rich in crucial history. I was thrilled that we could create such an experience to help these young people forge stronger connections with the past.

At the British Museum we saw several artifacts, spanning millennia, proving the veracity of the history contained in the Bible. Our campers could see the savage brutality of the Assyrian people displayed on the Lachish reliefs, preserved from over 2,700 years ago. They could see the Taylor Prism, with its account by King Sennacherib of besieging Jerusalem, the full story of which is told in the biblical books of Chronicles and Isaiah. They could see the Cyrus Cylinder, 2,500 years old, bringing to life the history of this Persian king who set captive Jews free to rebuild Jerusalem. These were just a few of the many displays showing the wealth, inventiveness, precision, craftsmanship, social life, paganism and humanness of these bygone generations from all over the world. Curiosities, mysteries and lessons lay in every cranny and nook.

The War Rooms are the bunkers tucked under Whitehall Street that served as Britain’s command center during World War ii, since converted into an outstanding museum. It made the history of Britain’s “finest hour” wonderfully vivid: We got a sense of the destructiveness of the German Blitz, the solidarity of Londoners in cheerfully accepting privation and rallying to mount opposition, the night-and-day labor of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his staff, and the determination and indomitability required to vanquish the Nazis. Extremely valuable and relevant history to ponder.

It happened that on the ride into the city, I began reading Gerald Flurry’s booklet The Book of Chronicles. On the very first page is this statement: “This world is lost in the present. God is always challenging His people to keep the overview—to see the grand sweep both historically and prophetically.”

How important that we have this overview! Creating connections with the past orients and stabilizes us. It provides specific lessons that can inform our decision-making, both individually and nationally. It supplies our memory as a people, as well as our understanding of and appreciation for personal and national character. It fortifies us to face hardships with resolution. It provides a realistic sense of just how cruel human nature can be, and the magnitude of the effort needed to conquer it. And it is extremely prophetic, as it tends to play out in repetitive cycles.

The lessons are many, and they are invaluable.

Yet today, history is being erased, rewritten, neglected and forgotten. In universities, for example, fewer and fewer undergraduates are taking history classes; fewer colleges are mandating that they do; fewer students are graduating with history degrees. History instructors are migrating away from classic history and toward more specialized (and suspect) classes like Harvard’s “Emotions in History,” Yale’s “Indigenous Religious History,” and Stanford’s “Mad Women: The History of Women and Mental Illness in the U.S.”

What sorts of lessons will this history teach? Will it fill our students with a sense of positive purpose? Will it inspire them to follow the best examples of their forebears and to build heroic character? Will it strengthen them for future challenges?

The better you understand history, the better you can understand why our ignorance of it is so dangerous. And the more you can see why we cannot afford to get lost in the present. We must accept God’s challenge—“to keep the overview—to see the grand sweep both historically and prophetically.”