The famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is often attributed to George Santayana, a professor, philosopher, essayist, and poet who lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Throughout his lifetime, Santayana witnessed the devastating effects of WWI, the despair of the Great Depression that followed, and the destruction of his homeland during the Spanish Civil War. Near the end of his life, Santayana decided to move to Italy—just in time to behold the horrors of WWII.
Santayana’s life certainly shaped his opinions on the human condition; he recognized the human tendency toward death and destruction as he repeatedly witnessed the cycle of rebellion, war, and loss in the world. And though he didn’t use theological terms to describe humanity, we can agree with his premise: Lacking transformation, humanity is doomed.
What was Santayana’s solution for change? Teach men to be better. Help humans learn from their mistakes. Become historians to prevent our own demise and destruction.
And that, right there, is where our agreement must end.
We know that the problem with humanity can’t be corrected by one more lesson; it can’t be solved by our actions, our resolutions, or our knowledge of the past. The problem with humanity resides in the very bones of our being. It is the pungent pollution that has invaded our lungs, the gangrene that gratifies the flesh, the sin that sucks at the soul. And it’s been with us since the deceiver first cunningly whispered, “Did God really say …?”
What a perfect theme for Lutherans For Life to explore! It hearkens back to that first sin in those first days of life in that first garden, a sin that would create and shape life issues for centuries to come.
Adam and Eve knew God’s command; they had received God’s Law, a gift of love that was meant to protect them, and they knew something horrific—a thing called death—would follow if they took a bite of the forbidden fruit. But they bit anyway. Why? Because they wanted to be like God. Indeed, they wanted to be gods themselves.
Though Adam and Eve were the first to play god, they definitely weren’t the last. The Old Testament is riddled with stories of God’s people trying to wrest control from Him: Cain decides to end Abel’s life, Sarai solves her infertility problems by making Hagar a surrogate, King David steals another man’s wife, and Jonah decides the lives of the Ninevites aren’t worth saving. The list goes on and on.
As responsible historians then, we begin to see a pattern. Failure. Death. Destruction. Sin has corrupted creation; human nature is fallen; we are sinful and unclean.
The testaments depict God’s people breaking the first commandment time and again. But has the human condition really changed? Aren’t we too looking for a little wiggle room when we carefully wedge our wants and desires in front of God’s commands, justifying them with our own standards for good and evil?
“It’s just not fair to bring a child into the world when I can’t provide for him …. We’ll save money if we live together; why make two payments when we can make one? … It’s compassionate to end her life full of suffering ….”
Yes, just as Adam and Eve turned away from the greatest Love-giver and Life-giver that ever was and ever will be, so too we turn away. We refuse to follow God’s Law, a gift of love that is meant to protect us, and knowingly take a bite of the same poisonous fruit. Like Paul we must confess, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Santayana was right when he said something is deeply wrong with the world, but that something is sin, not a need for better education about history. The human condition hasn’t changed—not one bit.
But here’s the good news: God hasn’t changed either.
Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and, while the Bible is filled with stories of God’s people turning from Him, it is also filled with stories of God turning His people back toward Him. It is overflowing with examples of God’s great love and mercy, of His works of forgiveness and rescue. When Cain deserves death, God marks him and spares his life. Later, God keeps His promise to Abraham and gives Sarah a son. He forgives David, and He saves Jonah in the belly of a fish. The list goes on and on—it even includes you.
As responsible historians then, we begin to see another pattern: Forgiveness. Love. Life. God has saved creation; He has given us a new nature in Christ; we are washed clean.
Because of God’s saving work in our lives, we are made to be more than historians; we are privileged to be people of promise, called to be humans with hope. For our “eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord,” and this work has made us into living testaments for Him (Deuteronomy 11:7). As living testaments, we are called to share the story of Life, even when the words are difficult, even when these truths are unpopular. By the work of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to echo the words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
And do you know what those words tell us? Someday, the human condition WILL change forever. Someday the fall will be forgotten. Someday we will see Jesus face to face.
It’s going to be a glorious day, isn’t it?
Until then, let us be more than historians. Let us recognize that the patterns of the past point not only to our need for a Savior, but also to the work Christ has accomplished for us. Let us live as For Life people, confident that our future is founded on promises that will be kept. And let us rejoice in the opportunities we have to share the message of LIFE with others!