The “E” Word

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?


      12 thoughts on “The “E” Word

      1. Mike, pardon me for getting to the discussion late. Obviously things change in the way those who profess to be believers in God perceive and interpret and extrapolate their experiences with God (and I think that is the point of your article). There is some development in the way people talk about their experiences with God, but not necessarily linearly or progressively. I don’t believe in actual progress for humanity, including Christians. There can be some growth and maturity, but every person starts pretty much from zero. We don’t build much on what has come before even when we think we do. We meander and double back and have many false starts. This is not necessarily bad, it is just the way life is in a not-yet-redeemed world. Many problems of understanding arise from being told by those who perceive themselves to be God’s apologists that the Bible is the definitive revealed and decreed, infallible will and word of God in all its parts. Or that their experience is the norm. It’s probably impossible to harmonize everything that the Bible says God did or desires and it’s certainly impossible to harmonize what people have said about those things.

        In my opinion, God doesn’t change in that He wants from and for each person exactly what He wanted from and for Adam and Eve – love, fellowship, worship, learning, care for others, obedience, joy in life and shared experiences with Him and others. We have to discern in the Bible what comports with the spirit of Christ. This is subjective and hard to do but it is what we have to do all the time with the sermons and advice we hear.

        1. This involves a lot more work than just trusting a preacher or TV evangelist.

          I do think humanity overall has made progress in some areas, e.g. slavery, misogamy, but there will always be Hitlers and Stalins to appeal to the worst in us.

      2. I’m sorry to keep obsessing about Rahab but I can’t help myself. I’ll quit after this. But perhaps she hated her city. Perhaps she was forced into prostitution and harbored a great rage. Like many of the Canaanite religions, Jericho may have practiced child sacrifice and she may have seen something inherently evil in that. Perhaps she felt intrigued with this nomadic people and wanted to help them. It appears that she had a sense of their God and a healthy respect for Him because Hebrews 11 commends her for her faith.
        As for lying, it has often been done in the quest for a higher good. How about those people lying to hide Jews from the Gestapo in WW II?
        My other comment is that God still ‘destroys the entire world because of sin.’ Whether it is a world wide flood, genocide or one by one, death comes to us all. And I’m not too happy about that. I don’t like aging, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and my other failings present and future. And I would guess you don’t like cancer and an injured rotator cuff. By the way, Mike, I’m sad for all you’ve had to deal with in recent years. Kim and I will continue to pray for you regarding the upcoming surgery.

        1. You are probably right about Rahab. People mentioned in the Bible are as complex as the rest of us although only a few words are said about them. No life can adequately be reduced to a few verses. And I too believe that lying is justified when it is the lesser of two evils.

          Death and all that leads up to it is a mystery in light of the character of God. And its inevitability is one of the realities that makes it hard to believe in prayer. What’s going to happen happens and our words have little or no effect except to soothe us.

      3. I agree with you that God appears harsher and downright violent in the OT. I was just taking exeption to your point that the Canaanites didn’t have a chance to convert when I thought of the example of Rahab.
        It is a hard thing to swallow and I have struggled with it for years, along with the question of why God allows the innocent to suffer.
        Are you suggesting that humans in OT times interpreted events in their lives as caused by God when maybe they were not?
        Also, I assert that many Christians throughout the history of the Church have practiced a kind of Old Testament Christianity. And that has been unfortunate.

        1. Rahab is an interesting case. She saved her own life through lying and betraying her entire city.

          I’m suggesting humans may have “heard” God in ways that fit their times and cultures. Genocide made military sense to the Israelites; was it then legitimized by saying God commanded it? When the same thing happens today–Muslims killing infidels in obedience to God–we believe they are deluded or crazy.

      4. What about Rahab? She was given a chance to convert. Perhaps there were others–just not recorded.

        1. True, Jackie. Rahab, David, Lot and many others received God’s love and grace just as some in the NT received judgment, e.g. Simon the Sorcerer and Herod. But God’s overall actions are harsher and more severe the earlier in the Bible you read.

          Recall that while Rahab was saved, everyone else in Jericho was put to the sword, including children and infants. And when Achan sinned, his entire family was executed. I could go on.

      5. Mike, your thinking has obviously E-word-volved. God appears to be the ‘elephant in the room’, with us grasping at portions and describing the experience. We either ‘see through a glass darkly’ or have been blindfolded at birth. Perhaps a little of both.

        God breathed. Yes. Our understanding is, at the very least, influenced by our own vocabulary and accent. N’est ce pas?

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