Reinhold Niebuhr and Providential history. I’ve changed my mind about Reinhold Niebuhr. He tries but fails to connect Christian realism with Providential history. In other words, he fails to connect Christ’s love commandment (“love your neighbor”) with God’s role in history. So that God might be relevant, Niebuhr draws him into history; but not too close lest God get some of the blame. * It’s a tough balancing act that doesn’t quite work.
History as God
Modern history, says Niebuhr, history since the Enlightenment (eighteenth-century), is not so much about confidence in history as faith in history. Until, that is, history ran into the twentieth-century. Faith in history meant faith in historical progress. God would not redeem us, but history would. Reason would make God unnecessary, as humans became more rational and less nationalistic. Peace and progress would follow.
With the twentieth-century the belief that history is the story of humanity’s increasing reason and freedom came to an abrupt end. World War One, World War Two, the genocide of the Jews and Roma, the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—all involved countries most committed to the hopes of the Enlightenment. If we look at history today, can we honestly say that the period from World-War One through the Holocaust was a mere pause in historical progress? The United Nations Genocide Convention counts twenty-three genocides since the Holocaust.
God and justice
History cannot provide an answer to the meaning of life. But amidst the turmoil of history, God can be found, and his meaning discerned, says Niebuhr.
God makes Himself known. His sovereignty over history is disclosed in specific events and acts which are revelatory of the meaning of the whole process. (loc 793)