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Pastor's Column

Jesus ends progress

  A couple weeks ago, we explored how we perceive progress in our Christian lives. We are called to be faithful in our Christian living and to apply that faithfulness to opportunities as they present themselves. However, the results that come are not within our control. Faithfulness might bear fruit unseen to us, fruit that matures long after we’re gone, or fruit that will only be seen in eternity. This relaxes our grip on the results of our lives and allows us to hand them over to God.

  This week we’re zooming out to take a wider look at the idea of progress itself. One of the key questions in this discussion is, “What is the metric that has to improve for ‘progress’ to be happening?” Is it comfort? Financial success? Length of lifespan? Lack of war?

  On the one hand, we recognize the great improvements to the human experience in recent centuries. As modern science and medicine have blossomed, infant mortality has dropped in many parts of the world, people have been living longer, and the comfort of our daily lives has increased exponentially. No longer are you crouched on a dirt floor with fleas on your ankles and lice in your hair, tending a smoky fire to cook whatever food you could grow or gather. Sure, we could call that progress.

  But that very situation I described is still experienced by people in the world in 2024. As for us who have ridden the progress train up with the rise of American prosperity and dominance, why is it that we have a mental health crisis on our hands? Why is it that we haven’t eradicated war? Why is it that the same scientific energy that discovered penicillin and engineered indoor plumbing also creates nuclear bombs and perpetrates identity theft? Everyone’s worried about artificial intelligence (AI), but is there really something AI could do to us that we wouldn’t do to each other?

  All this is to say that on the other hand of progress is a broken human nature that can’t help but twist the gifts of God’s creation into weapons of sin and (self-)destruction. Jesus makes clear that total trust in human progress is not the way to heaven, but hell. ��or whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

  While I don’t subscribe to the withdrawal of the Amish and similar groups from society, they do make a basic claim that I would agree with: refusing to trust ultimately in human progress is not a sign of fear, but belief that the alternative is far better. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

  King Solomon, progress incarnate to someone in 950 BC, looked at all the world had to offer and labeled it “vanity” many times over (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Then he concluded, “I perceived that whatever God does endure forever. … He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:14, 11). Don’t get me wrong: progress is beautiful, as long as it’s seen as a fleeting stop, sometimes better, sometimes worse, on the way to the sure destination in our hearts, eternity. Then there will be no betterment, only that which has been made “very good” once again through Christ (Genesis 1:31), ourselves included.


(c) 2006 Frankenmuth News