Human progress

Colossians 1:15–23

What you believe is important. What you believe influences what you do. One of the factors that influence our behaviour is whether we believe factors outside our control are influencing our behaviour. That is a scientific fact. Is that clear?

There is scientific research that has found that the belief in free will serves as the basis for moral responsibility. It’s true.

You may have wondered about the old question of, “Does the end justify the means?” This often gets laid out with an example such as, is killing always wrong? Murder is normally seen as one of the worst sins, so is it ever OK to kill to save a life? It seems that science has something to add to what appears to be a moral discussion.

Research has found that when people focus on the means, they see free will and responsibility as linked. When people focus on the end, they don’t see a link. There’s a fundamental difference in the moral judgements people make when they take a short-term vs. a long-term view.

There are two main ways of looking at the future of the world. They will affect your behaviour.

One way of looking at the world is the progressive view. You may find elements of this view in your own beliefs. This is the myth that you find especially among politicians and secular pundits. They encourage us to share their belief in progress. Vote for me and things will get better, they say. This myth has deep roots in western culture, and some of those roots are Christian.

Progress says humans are going to grow and develop, making continuous progress until we reach some kind of Utopia. This view grew especially in the Enlightenment. In Europe in the 19th century there was an optimism over scientific and economic advances alongside education and democratic freedom. It seemed that history was inevitably moving toward a wonderful age of perfection and peace. Prosperity for everyone was just around the corner.

Of course this dream is a parody of the Christian vision of heaven. It was heavily promoted by Hegel. Humans can be perfect, and are naturally evolving to perfection. There is no need for God’s grace, humans can do it all themselves through their own effort. A product of this way of thinking was Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution was not new, but support for Hegel’s idea.

His ideas were removed from biology and applied to every area of human existence, making it seem scientific that human progress was evolutionary, natural and unstoppable.

Onto the bandwagon leapt a man named Karl Marx.

So too did many Christian thinkers, who began to support ideas such as war being God’s way of choosing the fittest humans for survival. So by this view war is good and we need more of it. These people gave us the social gospel, which brought enormous good works. As good as that is, we have discovered it isn’t the full answer.

The real problem with the myth of progress is that it cannot deal with evil. There is no way if you believe this to remove evil from the world. That’s why all of the evolutionary optimism has been unable to solve famine, terrorism, crime, divorce, racism, fascism, child pornography, etc.

Today we still have politicians trying to solve the war in Syria and Iraq, North Korea, corruption, refugees with a myth of progress. It can never solve evil.

Evolution gave us Hiroshima and North Korea. It isn’t moving to perfection. Science says the universe started with a big bang and is headed to a big collapse, not evolutionary perfection.

The myth of progress is incredibly powerful, and you may find elements of it in your thinking. But it fails because it leaves out God. History is not moving forward. It is waiting for God to come down and solve evil. When someone mocks you for not believing in progress, be confident that God is the one who will set history straight.

There is another myth that has great power over our thinking. It comes from Plato and Buddha.

The world we live in is an illusion. It is a flickering shadow of true reality. True reality lies outside of space and time. The mess and clutter of this material world is just temporary. It’s not just the problem of evil. It’s death and decay. It’s the darkness that follows day. It’s the autumn and winter that follow spring and summer. It’s disease and suffering that follow health.

Hindus, Buddhists, Platonists say these aren’t growing pains of progress. They say these are signs we are not made for this world, but for a better spiritual world. In this belief, the way to live is to separate yourself from all the things of this material world. Overcome the flesh. Move beyond your body. The Christian version of this is called Gnosticism.

Gnostics believe that the material world is evil. There are some people who have a spark of light trapped in their mortal body. When they realise this, they can advance to a spiritual existence and escape the evil material world. One version of this myth is that the fall of man brought the physical world into existence, and the purpose of life is to return to our pure spiritual state before the fall.

People who held this belief include Yeats, Blake, Goethe, and Jung. This ‘just passing through’ Christianity leads to thinking the creation is irrelevant and not to be cared about. It leads to pollution and ecological disaster. It leads to thinking that since God will soon destroy the material universe, it doesn’t matter if we recycle or destroy the ozone layer. Who cares about the rainforest, it is just material and temporary and evil. For a lot of people the purpose of being a Christian is just to go to heaven and escape this world when they die.

There is another view. It stands against these two false views.

God, the creator of the universe, sent his son to save us. What he did for Jesus he is going to do for everyone who believes. And for all of creation.

The early Christians did not believe the world would make progress on its own. They did not believe the world was getting worse and worse and they had to escape altogether.

The first Christians believed in the resurrection.

God gave Jesus a new material body.

They believed the creation was good, as God repeatedly says in Genesis.

Evil is real. Evil is powerful. Evil isn’t that we are created. It isn’t that we are physical rather than pure spirit. God created the turning seasons and falling leaves. Evil is our rebellion against God and his order.

We don’t believe in progress. We don’t believe in passing through. Christians believe in transformation. God transformed the body of Christ into a resurrection body. Jesus had a body that was more material, not less. God transforms evil into good. God has placed his spirit in his children, that’s us, to transform us. We submit to God, and God changes us. Not by removing our physical bodies, but by healing us and filling us with light and love.

All of creation was waiting with eager longing for Jesus. He came to bring the kingdom of heaven on earth. He came to restore mankind to our proper position as good stewards of God’s creation. As we are transformed, this world is transformed.

A new world comes down from heaven. Jesus will be here on earth at the second coming.

This is what Christians first believed. Jesus was given a new body that was more real and substantial than his first body. In that body, Jesus went to heaven. He lives and rules in heaven in that physical body. He will return to earth in that physical body. We too will get a new real substantial body just like Jesus. Isn’t that good news?

Amen 아멘

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About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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