Once in a while we ought to have the good sense, honesty and courage to ask ourselves what German Pastor Helmut Thielecke dared to ask his congregation during the last days of World War II. Pastor Thielecke, who had been through the worst with his congregation in Stuttgart, preached a famous sermon in which he pointed out that while many were questioning their belief in God because of the war, they might be better served to question their belief in human progress. If he was speaking heresy then, today, in many churches, he would be summarily shown the door.
These days we tend to look to technology and science, which is another way of saying we continue to look to ourselves as evidence of human progress. We are awash in a sea of lower and higher forms of gadgetry. But do more gadgets automatically translate into progress? Ask the plains Indians about the day when the first Gatling gun arrived in their neighborhood; ask the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki about the wonders of atomic fusion; ask the surviving members of the family whose home was blown to bits when a ‘smart bomb’ flew in their kitchen window, while half a world away other families sat watching it all on cable news, munching potato chips. You get the point.
Belief in ourselves also results in manifestly reprehensible ideologies which promise a utopian future. All we need to do to bring such a future is identity those among us who are obstacles to our idealistic vision, eliminate them, and the glorious new day will dawn. The twentieth century saw Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and a host of others put this way of thinking into action: the body count ran into the tens of millions. And if you think it couldn’t happen again, you don’t know yourself or your neighbor very well. In fact, these ideologies are once again asserting themselves as if we learned nothing from the bloody 20th century.
Doubtless some are already mounting their defense as they read this. Don’t bother. I’m as aware as the next person of all the benefits technology has produced. But the maturing of technology simply reflects the fact that humanity has come of age, sort of like a teenager moving into adulthood. We are not fundamentally different human beings just because we have gone from torches to light switches, from bows and arrows to nuclear attack submarines. The fault line dividing good and evil runs stubbornly through every human heart.
The biblical witness in every dimension points to the God who, thankfully, takes the future out of our hands. This means I am under no obligation to look to myself, to you or anyone else to bring a realized future of peace and wholeness. In fact, I am free from the burden of such a dangerous illusion. For me, this is among the greatest consolations of the faith.