The Longue Durée
Recently I read an intriguing bit of news about a motion picture that had just won a Golden Globe award. What caught my attention was the fact that the director and his team had invested 12 years in filming with the same cast.
Twelve years represent a huge investment of time and energy—just to tell a fictitious story. I was reminded of an important school of thinkers, philosophers, and historians who, in the second half of the twentieth century, revolutionized historical studies. Instead of focusing only upon events—even the very important ones—they preferred to look at history as it develops over a long period of time. Known as the longue durée school (or “long term” in English), they were interested in the changing landscapes of history, attitudes, relationships, and cycles.
Adventists prefer, by definition and calling, the longue durée. We like to look at the big (prophetic) picture and are fond of reminding ourselves that a battle of cosmic dimensions has been raging for the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of Planet Earth. We take courage from the fact that God’s prophetic timetable of 2,300 evenings and mornings (Dan. 8:14) is sure and reliable. Its starting point can be found in 457 B.C., when Ezra is told by the Medo-Persian king Artaxerxes I to do “whatever seems good to you and your brethren” with the king’s silver and gold once the appropriate sacrifices on behalf of the Persian monarch had been made (Ezra 7:18, NKJV).* Adventist scholars (and others) have noticed the link to Daniel 9:24-27, a key text that explains to a worried prophet the significance of the 2,300 days (or years). Daniel’s text gives us the starting point of the 70 weeks (or 490 days = years) that had been “cut off” from the longer period: “Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall” (verse 25, NKJV). Ezra knew exactly what he wanted to do: he wanted to build a wall, thus reestablishing Jerusalem once again as a city.
Adventists prefer, by definition and calling, the longue durée.
I don’t have to go on. You know well the wow factor, when you start counting your 2,300 years in 457 B.C. (please don’t forget the nonexistent year 0) and reach A.D. 1844. I felt that way when I first followed the arguments closely. God can not only count; He also makes sure that we get the big picture. His sure word of prophecy is meant to remind us of His sovereignty over history. It gives hope to those who feel hopeless; it inspires faith to those who doubt; it helps us to look up instead of inward and around us.
Right now, we as a church are focused on the upcoming General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas. Some anticipate this event with a trembling heart. Let me venture that San Antonio 2015 is not an ominous moment that will make or break this church. I confess that the staff of this magazine does not look forward exuberantly to a General Conference session—any General Conference session. It means long hours before and during the event as we produce the official daily bulletins. It means 12 days in a hotel room, eating unfamiliar food and exercising too little. Yes, we all have been praying for divine wisdom, humble hearts, and big-picture thinking when we consider the big issues (including the ordination question and revisiting fundamental belief 5). However, when we apply the longue durée perspective, we suddenly realize that it’s a mere speck on God’s time line that cannot derail the One who stands among His church (Rev. 1:12-20) and holds all power in this universe (and beyond!).
I like to see the big picture. God likes to remind us of the big picture. We are called to live the big picture of ministering to a world in desperate need and sharing with its people the good news that He is on His way to take us home. At home forever and ever and ever—the picture can’t get much bigger!
* Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.