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Progressive revelation doesn’t reveal much

I have to admit that I was more than a little excited when I saw that renowned media personality Erick Erickson responded directly to my last column, which itself was a response to a previous opinion piece of his castigating a local church for voting to allow gay marriages to be performed in their sanctuary. I was less excited by the content of his response.

His attempt to sweep away the moral conundrum I pointed out that a biblical literalist must face when he reads some of the more disturbing laws and commands God is reported to have handed down to his chosen people in the Old Testament using the concept of “progressive revelation” was disappointing to say the least. I’m familiar with the theological proposition that God revealed his true nature and character to man gradually, over a period of time, but even if that is accurate, it does little to address the issue at hand.

Progressive revelation proposes that in the early stages of our existence God handed down laws to us that were grounded in a very violent, eye-for-an-eye school of thought and then later, after thousands of years of bloodshed and misery, came into the world as one of us in the person of Jesus to teach us by example a very different way of life grounded in compassion, peace and self-sacrifice.

But this view of God’s relationship with humanity doesn’t represent a solution, it only leads a thoughtful Christian to ask even more challenging questions. Why did God wait so long to reveal his true nature to us, and why did so many people have to suffer and die before we were taught that it was better to “turn the other cheek”?

Imagine applying this same principle to any other type of relationship. Say a man beats his wife for the first 10 years of marriage, and then in later years, treats her with only affection and tenderness. If I said that the character of the man had never changed and that he was merely progressively revealing his love to his wife, would that make sense to you? And would it in any way explain away those first 10 years of regular beatings?

Imagine that instead of mankind suffering through thousands of years of bloodshed and strife, Jesus had met Adam and Eve right outside the garden after the fall and clued them in on what God’s love really looked like. It seems to me that countless lives might have been spared if God’s true nature of selfless love could have been shared with mankind right from the beginning.

If you’re waiting for me to explain why things didn’t happen that way, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. It is one of many things I don’t understand about God, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I don’t believe that anyone has a good answer to that question, and for some people, that’s a very scary proposition.

I think that’s why people like Erickson latch on to unsatisfying explanations like progressive revelation and hold onto them for dear life, then suggest that those of us who don’t accept their point of view are merely too dim-witted or stubborn to see God’s truth as they proclaim it.

It seems to me that such displays of hubris represent a more dangerous path for a Christian to take than an error (if it is an error) committed in the name of compassion, such as church having a policy that is “too tolerant” of homosexual lifestyles.

When asked to summarize the “law and the prophets,” Jesus had a very simple answer: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

I believe that if you set your moral compass by those words you are doing the best you can possibly do to be a follower of Christ. I will let you judge for yourself who you think is doing a better job of loving their neighbor in the case of Erickson versus the people of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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