THE CLAIM THAT “GOD ACTS IN HISTORY” IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH OUR Enlightenment notions of control, reason, objectivity, and technique.1 Indeed, if one begins with the assumptions of modernity, history can only be a bare story of power, in which the God of the Bible can never make a significant appearance. The claim that “God acts in history” requires a very different beginning point. In the end, the claim that God’s word impinges upon human history is a counterclaim refusing the common debate concerning whether history is a tale of either raw power or blind faith.2 The claim that God’s word impinges upon the human process rejects both options of raw power and silly supernaturalism.
A prophetic understanding of the historical process must make its way against two competitors. First, there are the temptations of modernity, which have perhaps been embodied in the “doctrine” of Henry Kissinger.3 This view assumes that the historical process is essentially a closed process in which one must manage the available pieces as best as one can, because there will be no new pieces. This view has emptied the historical process of inscrutability and mystery, and it seeks to eradicate ambiguity. It has concluded that “might makes right,” that “history is written by the winners,” and that history is simply “the story of the state,” that is, the story of power concentrated in the hands of those who deserve it, who can manage it well, and who benefit from it. This view of history is powerful among us, reflecting our fear of and our sense of our cosmic homelessness; this view drives the arms race and ends in despair that brutalizes, either in the name of the state or against the claims of the state.
Second, and in an odd alliance with the first view, is an older religious view of the historical process that affirms that all of life is in the hands of the gods (or God), that humankind may propose but God disposes, and that therefore human choice in the end does not matter. This kind of supernaturalism that eventuates in fatalism and is manifested in astrology leads to an abdication of human responsibility and human freedom. It invites despair on the one hand and recklessness on the other, because God will finally decide.
I submit that it is the first of these views that is most powerful among us, and that the latter has little attraction for us if it is spelled out with any precision. In fact, however, these two views converge in a massive verdict of