There was a time when people believed that there would be indefinite growth and progress; that humankind is heading for heaven on earth; that we would someday regain the paradise we lost. Armed with an ever-progressing science and technology, they saw that a perfect economy and perfect health were not only a dream, but for a brief time in history at least, it seemed a possible reality. But with the discovery that earth natural resources will not support indefinite human want and greed, this dream died out. New diseases appear faster than we can find a cure. Economies are crumbling. No sensible person in today’s world would talk about this indefinite progress anymore.
Is God against progress and development? No. God wants us to progress and he is passionate about it. The Bible says even Jesus progressed in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and men. But the problem with the vision of progress the world had many decades back was that it was self-centred, centred around human want and greed. It was no lesser evil in scope than the tower of Babel in the Old Testament.
What Progress is Not.
The Bible does not share our vision of progress, because progress is not based on riches or power, but progress is essentially based on wisdom and knowledge (We can organise international festivals to entertain our youth, but can’t deliver their textbooks on time. Is that as far as our vision of progress goes?). Today there are many who may want to think that they are progressing in life. However, if by progress they mean having luxury cars, riches and power, they are mistaken. Such kind will last only as far as the political favour (or whatever favour they have) will last. Very soon they will find that they have been deceived into a lifestyle they can never sustain.
Prosperity and success is not something we can handle on our own. We will soon find that their weight is too heavy if the foundation of wisdom and knowledge is not strong. According to the Bible, it all begins where everything should begin: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. This vision of progress is God-centred, and not self-centred.
When we are God-centred, it naturally follows that we are living for something larger than our own lives. After all, what can be greater than God, and what purpose in life can be greater than the purposes of God? Our young people need to be taught to have this vision of life that is larger than themselves; to quietly seek wisdom and knowledge in the fear of the Lord; to have goals and ambition in life that transcends ordinary life itself. After all, the vision we have of God is transcendent, supreme and all-powerful, at the same time immanent and relevant to daily life situations. Because our God is both of immanent and transcendent, we can [and should] have an extraordinary life that is God-centred, with goals that transcends our local situations, and ambitions that are not self-centred. To be God-centred is to live for something larger than ourselves, and that means we live and plan for others.
First one is from Ecclesiastes. The writer of Ecclesiastes was one of the most prominent members of his society (probably it was Solomon). Ecclesiastes 2:4ff –
“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me...”
He aggressively sought after the good life. For a time it seemed as if he went in search of it with no holds-barred self-centred quest. But the basic difference between his quest and our modern ambitions is that he declares, “In all of these, my wisdom stayed with me” (2:9).
In the final analysis, he asks, “What do people gain from all their toils.” Surely nothing substantial. It only adds to the burden of men. But this burden can be born where there is the proper foundation of knowledge and wisdom. When the fear of the Lord goes, wisdom goes, then progress is stunted and we are left with nothing but “utter meaninglessness”, says the Ecclesiast. His message is not that we abandon all quests for personal progress and development, but that we make it even more successful by placing it upon the foundation of the fear of the Lord where we discover wisdom. He concludes his book with this thought: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
The second example is none other than Jesus himself. Luke 2:52: Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and men. Jesus’ progress was holistic and complete. This quest for progress did not cut out people or trample over them. Rather it earned him the favour of men, and most importantly, the favour of God. Any personal quest or ambition that excludes the welfare of others from the picture can only be self-centred and bound to fail. And any ambition that excludes God and tries to out-do God can only invite the wrath and judgement of God like the tower of Babel. But a quest that is God-centred will have the favour of God and men alike. That is bound to succeed.
To be God-centred is to be Christ-centred. To be Christ-centred is to have the “self-giving” nature of Christ. Then our quest for the good life is synonymous with the quest for the common good of humankind.