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The wrong side of history 

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.  With justice he judges and wages war.  (Revelation 19:11, NIV)

It’s a contemporary commonplace to say that some action or practice will put us “the wrong side of history”.  The idea is that future generations will look back on something we do now and judge us to be in the wrong for it.

Take, for instance, the slave trade.  This was respectable in America and England for much of the eighteenth century, but we now realise that it was very wrong.  Those who participated in it were, therefore, “on the wrong side of history”.  Based on this, we now wonder what blind spots we have now: will our descendants condemn our unseen racial biases, our wrong use of hydrocarbons or even our eating of meat?  And what about our political affiliations?  Last summer, ahead of Donald Trump’s visit to the UK, London Mayor Sadiq Khan argued that welcoming him would put us “on the wrong side of history”.

It is surely a wise move to consider our blind spots, and always to question whether an activity is right, even if at the present time many support it.  And to say that future generations may think differently is a recognition of reality: people do change their minds.

But the concept also has a massive problem.  It relies on knowing how history will end up.  How can we possibly know what’s going to get the thumbs up - or down - in the future without that information?

This is where the book of Revelation comes to the rescue.  It shows us where human history is heading.  The verse at the top of this post refers to the risen Lord Jesus Christ, who will return to triumph over the powers of evil and to judge all humanity, before ushering in a new heavens and a new earth for his redeemed people.  (If you are new to this, this might sound far-fetched, but it is the direction in which the whole Bible points.)  

When Jesus comes as judge, we’ll see for sure who’s been on the right and the wrong side of history.  And there will be things which the majority of people now think are fine, but which he will show not to have been fine.  Even some of the things we are presently told will put us on the right side of history will in fact be seen to be wrong.

It is certainly possible to be “the wrong side of history”.  But those who use the expression lightly (sometimes sloppily, in the place of proper moral reasoning) should be challenged: “So where d’you think history is going?”  And further: “On what grounds d’you think that?”

The Lord Jesus has given us the answer.  We are to live his way, for he will have the last word.  This is why it is absolutely essential that we listen to his teaching now, however counter-cultural it may be.  We don’t want to be the wrong side of what is, in the end, his story.

Our series on Revelation continues this Sunday.

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Alasdair Paine, 29/05/2020