History is Written by the Victim
“I Love Lucy” was a popular TV show in the 1950s and is arguably one of the greatest comedies in television history. Featuring the Queen of Comedy, Lucille Ball, the show followed the escapades of Lucy, her husband, Ricky Ricardo, and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz. From a candy factory job gone wrong to escapades in the Hollywood hills, viewers could rest assured that Lucy would find herself in one hilarious mishap after another. One episode finds Lucy and company trapped in a cabin in the Austrian alps by an avalanche. Thinking that the end may be near, the four friends begin sharing confessions, a sort of last rites intended to unburden their consciences. After Lucy and Ethel have spilled their deepest, comical admissions, Lucy turns to Ricky and says, “Don’t you have something to confess?”
“I’m no fool,” he replies. “We might be saved.”
As playwright Larry Gelbart once said, "Most good jokes state a bitter truth." We do everything in our power to rewrite our own histories, to censor our history before it is broadcast to the world. This is nothing new. The pharaohs after Hatshepsut erased her name from Egyptian monuments. Lord Byron dedicated a good deal of time and ink to carefully painting himself as a tortured soul, desperate for love. We edit our social media presences to flaunt only those moments we want to remember and gloss over the ones we want to forget. We are encouraged to write our own stories and seize our own destinies, and the allure of controlling our own narrative overpowers us all far too often.
In a 1944 article in the Tribune, George Orwell lamented, “History is written by the winners.” Orwell’s fear is only exacerbated today – how are we ever to discern what truth is when we have increasingly lost the idea “that a fact may be true even if you don't like it”? Fake news and conspiracy theories are the unruly children of a far deeper problem; that is, whom do we trust to tell us what the world is actually like? And what are we to do once we know better?
An approach to truth that emphasizes our own reactions to any experience feeds the storyteller in all of us. Any and all failure is re-written to portray us as either victor or victim. A low grade on an exam can easily be blamed on a stuffy teacher or a poorly written textbook. A shattered relationship, as any of the songs in today’s top 40 will tell you, is almost always the other person’s fault. My accomplishments are mine alone, and if I can’t explain away my failures, I’ll tell you how strong I am for overcoming the challenges that I have.
If we examine history—whether what happened yesterday, last year, or two thousand years ago—as something to interpret using our own unique perspective, we will quickly find just how deadly storytelling can be. Those who forget history may be doomed to repeat it, but those who misinterpret it may experience something far worse than being trapped in a cosmic hamster wheel. If there is objective truth outside our own experience, what does it say about us? Are we creating our own utopia with our emotions and actions? Are we fish dying in a tank, floating in our own filth and oblivious to life outside the walls of our world? Or are we caught in limbo somewhere else on the spectrum?
Out of all the world’s religions, Christianity makes a shocking, unheard of claim. Instead of suggesting that human history doesn’t matter, instead of divorcing the spiritual from the physical, it presents to us the Incarnation of God Himself: fully God and fully Man in the Person of Jesus Christ. The One who created history entered into it (John 1:1-3). The One who saw us floating, dead and rotting, chose to become one of us in verifiable history. The Word Made Flesh submitted Himself to historical inquiry by entering in to history, by choosing to live, die, and rise again in actual time. If we cannot examine the public execution and resurrection of Jesus in the same manner that we investigate any past event, our faith is founded not on the Son of God but on a cleverly devised myth, a pseudo-Messiah completely insusceptible to historical inquiry.
This is not the Jesus Christ whom we confess to have “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” a claim grounded firmly in the realm of actual, created time. The Incarnation dispels any wish we might have for a faith founded on faith—more correctly faith founded on ourselves—and forces us to confront faith founded on the fact of the death and resurrection of Immanuel.
In the light of the cross and the empty tomb, we see how pathetic our attempts at self-censorship are. Not even the cleverest playwright could spin our wrongs into rights or remove our names from the list of those condemned to eternal death. Every sin we are desperate to rewrite was fully exposed as the Word Made Flesh. He who became our sin (2 Cor. 5:21), was stripped and hung on a tree for all to see. As Christ descended into hell, He told Satan not to expect us to be checking in. By His blood flowing freely at Calvary, He engraved our names on the palms of His hands, ensuring that our names are written in the Book of Life (Is. 49:16).
Our future is hidden in history because your sins and mine were slain as the Father sacrificed His Son on the altar of the cross. Our sins are not momentarily forgotten or sealed behind closed lips—they are gone forever.
Praise the LORD that history is written, fulfilled, and redeemed by the One who is both Victor and Victim, both God and Man. We who were worse than fools—blind, dead, and enemies of God are saved not because we hid our guilt, but because Christ paid the price for our sins (Rom. 5:6-10). The one who is, who was, and who is to come holds history and eternity in His hands. By the power of His Holy Spirit, the Father invites those who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness to the never-ending wedding feast, world without end. Amen.