Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Wrong Side of History

The Wrong Side of History?

From time to time believers are told that unless they change their views or positions on certain issues that they will find themselves on the wrong side of history. For example, it is argued that if we continue to press the biblical viewpoint that sex outside of marriage is wrong, including homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:4), then we will end up looking backward and ignorant to future generations. Yet, let’s pause and think about this:

What is the Standard of Truth?

One major weakness with the above argument is that it seems to rest upon the assumption that what most people believe at a certain point in time establishes the truthfulness of that position. Yet such is clearly false. 

  • Jesus noted that most people are on the wrong path (Matthew 7:13-14).
  • Most people ended up lost during the flood (2 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 3:20 “in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water”).
  • In like manner, most of the Israelites who were delivered from Egyptian bondage were not allowed to enter the Promised Land, because they refused to trust and obey God (1 Corinthians 10:5 “Nevertheless with most of them God was not well-pleased”).

Will the Next Generation Get it Right?

Another flaw in the above argument is the conviction that some generation in the future will arrive at the right conclusion about all past events. Yet both the Bible and secular history testify that often this is not the case. At times the next generation gets it all wrong:

8:10 “So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is vanity.”

“The wicked”:  In the context this would include wicked people who oppress others, i.e. tyrants, corrupt governmental officials, those who are ruthless in business, in the courts, despots and dictators. “From the holy place”:  It appears that this verse is only talking about one group of people. Wicked people who pretended to be righteous, wicked people who frequented the temple and went through all the various worship practices. “They are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus”: The American Standard translators believed that two groups of people are in this verse. The wicked who receive a splendid burial, and the righteous who are quickly forgotten. The King James and New American Standard translators believed that only one group is under consideration in this verse, i.e. the wicked. What is forgotten about the wicked is their former wickedness. “From the standpoint of the righteous, one of the most perplexing problems is to observe the wicked go to their graves praised by the society whom they have maligned without any apparent retributive action to make the record straight” (Kidwell, p. 212).

This verse informs us that secular history is not infallible. At times history has mistakenly labeled the wicked as righteous and visa versa. “This shows that popular moral judgments can be totally astray, swayed by the evidence of success or failure, and construing heaven’s patience as its approval. The dictator or corrupt tycoon may have bent the rules, it will be said; but after all, they got things done, they had flair, they lived in style(Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner, p. 77). In our own culture we have idolized a good number of people who were very sinful. “And so I have seen wicked men carried to the tomb and praised from the holy place and lauded in the city where they had acted thus” (AAT). “In spite of a notorious reputation, the wicked achieve prosperity and come to an end that is at least officially honorable.”

At What Point is the Official Verdict In?

A third flaw I see in the “you will be on the wrong side of history” argument is the assumption that at some point in the future there will arise an official verdict on some past historical event and that this verdict will remain unchanged until the end of time. Yet even in my short lifetime I have seen major flip-flops on past historical events, for example:

  • I have seen the American Military highly praised and then trashed.
  • I have seen the early founding fathers viewed with respect and contempt.
  • I have seen the American Pioneers viewed as heroes and villains.
  • I have seen individuals like Columbus admired and then attacked.
  • I have seen a future generation build a monument, name a building or street after someone, and then another generation changes all of that. 
  • I have seen a country beaming with pride when their astronauts walked on the moon, only to see an increasing number of people deny that such an event even happened.
  • I have seen a generation after the Second World War vowing to never forget certain events, like the Holocaust and then a generation arises that does not even know much or anything about such events, denies it ever happened or that it was even that significant if it did.
  • I have seen Presidents who were popular during their term viewed differently years later and visa versa.

The Reality

Future generations may not even care about what we considered to be the major events of our lifetime. Just like our current generation has completely forgotten about various major events in the past.

1:11 “There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.”

“No remembrance of earlier things”: Yet some people pin their hopes on posterity. They say, “But we will live on through our children and grandchildren”. Or, “I will erect a lasting monument to my existence, I will do something that will guarantee that I will not be forgotten!”, “Our history is always turning back on itself, failing of its promise. The journey goes on; we never arrive. Under the sun there is nowhere to make for, nothing finally satisfying or really new. As for pinning our hopes on posterity, in the end posterity will have lost the faintest memory of us” (Kidner, p. 26). Some say, “But we live in the information age”. Actually, a more honest assessment might be – the loss of information or disinformation age.

  • The verdict on a past event is really never settled. 
  • Utopia never does arrive, for man remains a sinner (Romans 3:23). So all the old abuses, darkness and ugliness continues to resurface. 

The Premature Surrender

The motive often behind the “you will find yourself on the wrong side of history” is often an attempt to scare and intimidate believers into surrendering prematurely. The idea is, “Face it, you will lose, it is only a matter of time”. Yet such is an arrogant position and assumes to be able to predict the future.  And what if individuals like Daniel or Joseph, or the early Christian’s had accepted such a premise? The world keeps telling the Christian that we are going to lose, that the church is going to die out, that no one in the future will believe what we believe, and yet it seems like every generation of Christians has been told something similar, yet the church remains (Hebrews 12:28), while the critics die out.

The Right Side of God

I find it ironic that people who often deny the existence of absolute truth will make the “wrong side of history argument”; which is a contradiction. A final verdict from history, a definite right and wrong side cannot coexist with the concept of no absolute truth. The other irony is that often people who profess to be non-conformists (I don’t care what people think) often make this argument. Yet, it is one of the most conformist arguments one could ever make. Because one is saying that what “most people believe in the future” is what one needs to currently embrace. In fact, it is the ultimate in seeking to please men, i.e., please the men and women in the next generation. In addition, we need to see this argument for what it is. It is an unbelieving or secular version of the Final Judgment. Instead of accurately viewing Jesus and His word as the final Judge, they have simply substituted some purely human verdict at some imaginary point in the future. Yet the concept is the same. They are arguing for some type of final verdict or judgment.

At the end of the day, at the Judgment, the right side of history will be once and for all declared. What man thought will be valueless. Where the majority stood as a precise position in time – rather meaningless as far as truth is concerned. All that will matter is the final verdict from Jesus (John 12:48; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11). An eternal separation is coming (Matthew 25:31) and “history” will not decide, God will.

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017