It’s not often that I talk about (comparatively recent) history on this blog. The struggles of kings have little direct relevance to the age of the Earth, after all, or the origin of species. But that isn’t about to stop the intrepid James J. S. Johnson, whose December article is called Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God. He asks:
How are two famous Viking battles in 1066 related to the very first Christmas?
The battles in question are, of course, Stamford Bridge and Hastings – the latter of which only involves Vikings if you decide to define the Normans as being “still Vikings,” in true creationist style. It may take a while to get to the purported answer to the above question, but as a clue it has something to do with the following four people (click for more information):
Before “analyzing the events of 1066” Johnson cannot resist using another of the legal analogies he so adores. Here he presents “Five Witnesses [that] Testify for God in the Courtroom of Life”:
- “The physical creation“
- “The non-physical uniqueness of mankind (i.e., our souls, personalities, minds, etc., especially our morality-oriented consciences)”
- “The Holy Bible“
- “The Lord Jesus Christ Himself“
- “God working in providential history“
It is this fifth element that Johnson wishes to concentrate on, though this section of his article is notable for an entirely different reason. Creationists are often going on about how eyewitness accounts are supremely reliable evidence, triumphing over the many other sources of evidence that in the real world are more accurate than the fallible human memory. In this article Johnson goes against this idea to some degree, though only to say that the Bible is even more reliable:
Amazingly, Peter recognized that his eyewitness experience of the Lord Jesus being physically glorified atop the Mount of Transfiguration—as authoritative as that revelation surely was—was not as sure or reliable a truth revelation as the Scriptures, which God has given to us in written form. Although Peter’s experience was certainly unforgettable, his sensory perceptions and memory were no substitute for the verbalized certainty of the prophecy-verified Scriptures.
Baby steps, I suppose.
Anyway, this providence business: Johnson espouses the idea that human history is all God’s divine plan – a common idea that seems to contradict the usual out to the old “problem of evil,” but that’s not important here.
Two historical examples can illustrate how God’s foreknowledge synchronizes with His purpose of blessing the world with His written Word, which reveals to us the living Word.
Johnson’s examples rest on one hell of a premise:
First, consider the importance of the United States of America as a gospel ministry vehicle, blessing the whole world by publishing and distributing Bibles, translating the Bible into hundreds of languages, providing biblical education in various media, and sending Bible-teaching missionaries and so on. Surely God’s blessings have been shown to all the world in the past 200 or so years through Christian Americans using their religious liberties. Surely God worked providentially in the founding of America.
It occurs to me that the word “surely” as used here is the result of a cross between the infamous “clearly” (these things never are) and a fair bit of desperation. His first example relates to George Washington:
But what if there had been no George Washington to “father” America? Would American history have noticed the difference? If your answer is “yes,” you appreciate Washington’s impact. How would America have impacted the world (for good) if Washington had never been born? His fate was at mortal risk on October 14, 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, where his own forefather the Norman duke William succeeded in conquering England. If the battle had gone the other way and William the Conqueror had died, then he would not have been alive to have a son named Henry (England’s Henry I), who was born two years after the Battle of Hastings. Since George Washington is a direct descendant of Henry I, Washington wouldn’t have been born roughly 700 years later.
It seems unlikely that Washington simply not being born would have hugely changed history – “surely” somebody else would have ended up in a similar role. Much more important to the issue is that the events and environment that surrounded the American Revolution simply would not have been the same if the Normons had not one, because England might never have been the power that it was (or might have been even more of one at the worst possible moment for the Americans). But acknowledging this would mean abandoning an apparent conception of romanticised God-ordained deeds of mighty men, and realising that history seems to be built upon foundations of suffering, genocide, and socio-economics. Johnson’s theology may be sound, but he lacks the imagination for proper alternate history, methinks.
The second example is the King James Bible. You see, if there was no King James there couldnae be a King James Bible now could there? And who was King James a descendent of, but Harald Hardrada:
Hardrada had already won battles in Russia, Eastern Europe, Greece, Italy, Sicily, Jerusalem, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. But on September 25, 1066, with a fleet of about 300 Viking ships, Hardrada invaded eastern England, only to meet Harold Godwinson at Stamford Bridge. At the end of that wasteful, bloody day, only about 8 percent of the Norwegians survived, and only 24 ships were needed to carry them home.
Thankfully, for all who appreciate the King James Bible and its impact around the world, one of those few survivors was Olaf Kyrre, King Hardrada’s son. Kyrre had been assigned to guard the boats during the disastrous battle. About seven years later, he fathered Magnus Bare-legs, through whom descended King James.
This example, while less American-centric, seems even weaker than the previous. The bible translation that fundamentalists so adore would have happened eventually, I’m sure, even without a James to commission it. If this was an end result that God was so keen on there were a million ways for Him to accomplish it.
What conceivable relevance could all this have to Christmas?
Both demonstrate God’s providence. Christmas introduced Jesus, the living Word of God. Later, the two battles of 1066 included God’s providential protection of the lineages of two men who would help spread to the world the written Word of God: King James and George Washington. It is the written Word of God that teaches us to worship the living Word of God—Christ, the reason for this holy season.
Or, as it would seem:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
…And God is the ineffable, diabolical play-write. Johnson really takes forever to get to his point, doesn’t he?