Is History Cyclical or Linear?by Rit Nosotro
Compare the Greco-Roman theory with Asian beliefs about endless cycles of history.
Do you like history? Do you like learning about the past and the events in other countries? When someone studies history, they have one of two viewpoints. Some believe that history is cyclical. Basically this means that our past is just a specific pattern of cycles. There is nothing new to see yesterday or tomorrow, because history repeats itself in a cycle. Other people believe that history is linear. This means that our history has its beginning and it will have an end. There are no patterns or repetitions though they may appear to exist every once in awhile. So, when you begin studying, you are faced with two attitudes. Are we stuck in a never ending cycle beyond our control? Or are we heading toward an ultimate conclusion? Which one is correct? Over the years there has been a fierce controversy between the historians who believe cyclical history and those who believe in the linear history. We will compare the two theories and discover which is more reliable and truthful.
There is a field of study called eschatology. The name is a obtained from a Greek word that literally means “discourse about last things”. Typically, this term refers to the Christian doctrines concerning the end of the world (final events) and the transformation of history. It refers to Christian doctrines, but eschatology has extended far beyond the reach of the Church. When eschatology is used with Christian theology, then the purpose of that field is to study the final destiny of every created being in accordance to the purposes of God. And God’s only purpose is to draw people closer, or back, to Him. “(Jesus) And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32) So, throughout history, God has been allowing and causing events that would draw His people closer. But, as stated above, eschatology also rests in the hands of many who are not Christians. There are many other “groups” as well. They use eschatology to voice their opinions on what history is like. Primal and Monism believe that time is cyclical and that history is irrelevant. Deism believes that history was determined at creation and that God no longer intervenes on our behalf. Naturalism states that history has no real goal or purpose. Finally, the New Age states that history is, in fact, linear, but that it is merely an evolutionary process. Note how varied these ideas really are. Can we come to a reasonable conclusion about which one is correct? First, let’s examine the Christian viewpoint: history is linear, has a beginning and an end, and is done in accordance to the purposes of God.
In order to believe that history’s events have occurred in accordance to the purposes of God, then we must seek evidence which states that God does, in fact, have purposes for us. Ephesians 1:11 says, “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Such a statement seems to fully support the idea that God is continuously active in our lives. But let’s look at one more, “He makes priests walk barefoot and overthrows the secure ones . . . He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” (Job 12:19, 23) This clearly states that God’s fingerprints are all over the history that we study. He is responsible for rising up nations and for allowing their destruction. So, now we know that God is active in our lives, but does this mean that our history is still a cycle? Let’s refer back to the Bible, Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Reread the phrase “in the beginning”. Our world had a beginning and everything with a beginning has its end. A circle has no beginning and no end because it goes on and on. Therefore, the Christian viewpoint of eschatology, in the sense that history is linear and done in accordance to God’s purposes, is true! But one obstacle stands in our way; can the Bible be trusted as the divine work of God and not just a collection of fables? It is well-known that the Bible has been shown to be more accurate than any other religious text. There are two great items that have helped prove the Bible’s authenticity. One: time prophecy. For example, in the book of Daniel, the prophet predicts the rise and fall of 5 nations. These nations later rose and fell in exactly the same order that the prophet stated. Two: Archaeological discoveries. Everything found in archeology has either confirmed the Bible’s texts or, in the least, has not contradicted it. For example, a shard of pottery from 800 B.C. was found and it contains a donation receipt for Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6, 7). And, in 1994, a stone pillar was found in the city of Dan. It had an inscription on it that mentioned the “House of David” (2 Samuel 5:3) . This is the earliest Biblical mention of David and it was made about 250 years after his reign. This evidence supports the authenticity of the Bible.
The idea of a cyclical history is very popular in the Middle-Eastern areas and in Greece. In India, history is depicted as four ages which form one Great Year. It is just like the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter) as they make up one standard year. However, the Great Year in India lasts for about 4,320,000 standard, solar years. Each of the ages differ slightly from the one it follows as evil keeps growing. Then, the last age is when the climax of “good and evil” happens. At the very edge of this last age, there is a twilight and dawn which only lasts for about 1/10 of the last or next age. And, when the last age finally does end, the world is fully ready to take on new Great Year. It’s all about cycles. This theory of cyclical history sometimes coincides with the idea of reincarnation which is also popular in the East. The term reincarnate means, “to be born again in another body”. Buddha taught reincarnation (also called the rebirth) based on the direct experiences that he had. Many, many people believe that, through the peace and power of meditation, that they can eventually remember the events that happened in their past lives. This theory disintegrates when faced with Ecclesiastes 9:4,5 “For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.” This verse also contradicts the theory that when we are “reincarnated”, we still possess traits that were formed in our previous life. There is no proof for this theory beyond opinion and speculation. Reincarnation cannot be used to support cyclical history. No evidence exists to that supports reincarnation. But there is still the question of cyclical history. People do make the same mistakes, sometimes they will experience the same confrontations, and will even feel the same triumphs. But this does not mean that history is cyclical. Although history may appear to repeat itself it is only because human behavior doesn’t change. Reincarnation and cyclical history suggest that you always have a second chance. Linear history states that you had better get it right this time because there is no second chance. "It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgement" (Heb 9:27).
Linear history is supported by a large amount of evidence which keeps growing every day. Cyclical history seems to have to struggle as more evidence for linear builds. First, they try to find outrageous reasons why the Bible is not authentic and all the evidences are false. Secondly, they must then try to prove that their theory of cyclical history is better although it has no real evidence to support it. As the reader, you will decide which to believe. The decision you make will affect how you look at history and how you will feel about the future.
“Then He said to me, “ . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the
beginning and the end.”
1. MediaWiki, Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 6 February 2004, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page>
(1 February 2004).
2. The Electronic Text Center, The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, 1 May 2003, <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/DicHist/dict.html> (1 February 2004).
3. JoAnn Krueger, “Evidence the Bible is True”, 24 October 2002, <http://mindprod.com/feedbackgodbibletrue.html> (6 February 2004).
4. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Buddhism and Reincarnation, 2003, <http://www.tharpa.com/index.htm> (6 February 2004).
5. Dave, “Captain Dave’s Most Excellent Home Page”, 2003, <http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/3499/index.html> (2 February 2004).
6. Gwyneth Evans, “The Teaching of History: A Biblical Perspective”, 17 May 2001, <http://www.christian.org.uk/html-publications/education6.html> (3 February 2004).
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