Thursday, November 30, 2023

That which under girds progress. . .

Progress is the idea that the future holds the promise of something better than what we have now.  In contrast, the conservative worries that the future will hold just the opposite and so he conserves or holds onto the past in order to ground the future in something deeper than the moment.  It is a clash not simply of ideas but of worldviews and it is, for all practical purposes, irreconcilable.  

Such progressivism cannot avoid a deep and inherent conflict with Christianity.  This is not because Christianity fails to hold forth the vision of a better future than the present or the past offers but because of who delivers that future into our hands.  In this is the conflict.  The belief in the solvability of all things is a foundation of the modern world and that which under girds the very nature of progress.  The admission that we cannot solve our problems or repair what is key to Christianity.  We are not our own saviors.

For Americans in particular, our culture and optimism has nurtured the young with an expectation of progress and the means to solve the problems before us.  We are in love with technology because it offers us the illusion of a solution that somehow escapes the faults and failings of humanity.  Indeed, our disappointment with the outcomes of so many good intentions and noble ideas leaves us ripe to despair of humanity and to turn to technology, science, and, now, artificial intelligence as the solution to what humanity has failed to fix.  Of course, when this turns out not to be the case and we are also let down by our technology, science, and AI, the result is hopelessness and despair.  It does not take long before that hopelessness and despair creates anger in us and intolerance.  What we want are solutions to the many problems we have identified in our past and present.  What we yearn for is a future of improvement in which tomorrow is actually better than today.  When disappointment looms over the promise, we are left divided and at an impasse.  We blame those whom we think are standing in the way of progress.

Who among us can forget the byword of the 1960s:  “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”  But is is that simple or is it even true?  Much of our world believes it is.  The political divisions that plague us as a nation and as people are boiled down to those who have solutions and those who do not want solutions.  Though Christianity has presumed to be an ally of optimism and the betterment of our world, the Scriptures address the Gospel to a world not improving but deteriorating, not to a world getting better but one in which the rot and decay of sin can only be undone by a Savior and the better life resides not in an earthly utopia but on a heavenly consummation.

Some, perhaps many, Christians and preachers reject this idea and therefore reject the whole idea of repentance.  They would insist that a better tomorrow is the most real and practical definition of the Gospel and cannot understand or abide the idea of cross bearing, suffering, or sacrifice.  God's job is to guide us to build a better tomorrow upon the failures of yesterday and today.  But is it?  We complain that God would not want us to be unhappy and turn that into a license to serve ourselves before any others.  We lament the idea of a constant moral compass and insist that God understands how messy life is and has left it to us to decide what is right for the moment.  Our highest prayer is for God to make us wise enough and strong enough to get on without Him.  As we presume children outgrow their need for parents, we presume that God means for us to outgrow Him.  Progress and the solvability of all our problems support this cause.  God is a God of last resorts and not the present help in time of need.  That is why the whole idea of the cross is so foreign to us.  The cross may be what Christ had to get through but it is not where He is nor could it ever be the means of our redemption.  No, the cross is merely a momentary stop on the way to our own self-sufficiency of judgement and work.  It is no wonder that the Gospel is alien to our present day.  Jesus refuses to urge us on as we make for a better tomorrow and insists that we bring our failures to the cross where He absolves the sinner and raises them from death to life.  The prayer of the faithful is anathema to the progressive:  God, be merciful to me a sinner.

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