EVOLUTION is a dirty word to some Christians, mostly because evolution has been used as a weapon against things we hold sacred. Ignoring evolution of the species for the moment, is there such a thing as the evolution of God? Not that the Almighty evolved from a lower to a higher state but that the idea or perception of God developed and matured along with the people who held it?
Certainly the way God relates to humanity as recorded in the Bible has changed for the better, i.e. evolved, from the Old Testament to the New. Compare the God of the Pentateuch with the God of the Gospels, or the commands of Yahweh with those of Jesus.
In the first five books of the Bible, Yahweh,
- destroys the entire world because of sin.
- reigns down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.
- orders all Canaanites to be killed because their paganism might pollute Israel. (They weren’t even given the chance to convert.)
- meddles in politics, wiping out armies and manipulating kings.
- appears as a jealous warrior.
By the time we get to the Gospels, a more civilized God,
- longs to save the world not destroy it.
- commands us to love our enemies and forgive them instead of kill them.
- tells us to turn the other cheek when wronged instead of taking an eye for an eye.
- takes a hands-off approach to the geo-political world.
- appears as a loving father.
Yes, God shows love in the Old Testament (the books of Ruth and Jonah) and judgment in the New (the book of Revelation), but an honest reader will acknowledge—and puzzle over—the fact that the earlier the writings about God, the harsher the tone.
Here’s a thought: What if the Bible tells us as much about the people who wrote it as the God they wrote about? It makes sense for the authors to use metaphors from their lives and to reflect the worldview of their time. As history evolves from barbarism to civilization the concept of God also matures. This would explain the progressive nature of revelation.
Many evangelicals balk at this view because it means human (read “fallible”) perception is mixed in with divine revelation. How can we tell which is which? Isn’t it safer to take the whole Bible as inerrant? This approach avoids one set of problems but runs smack into another, i.e. reconciling the disparate pictures of God.
As someone who’s studied the Bible for 40 years, here’s my simple take on this complicated issue: All Scripture is “God breathed,” but the vocabulary and accent are human.
What’s your take?