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Problems, Prophets, and Progress

We think of progress as something linear—an arrow from present to future, improving all the time, always a step ahead of where we were before. We think of progress as the "new" and regress as the "old." And in the world's eyes, that paints a bad picture for the Word of God.

I mean, how many times have we heard Christianity pegged as something "old-fashioned?" Something that worked for the pioneers, maybe—but society has moved past that now. We've grown. We've improved. We don't need that anymore. That's progress, isn't it?

Isn't it?

C.S. Lewis made an excellent analogy about the true nature of progress when he described solving a difficult math problem. As we puzzle through a word problem we often make mistakes—we take a wrong turn somewhere and end up with skewed numbers that don't lead us to the right answer. In that case, moving backward is the only way forward. We have to go back to where we went wrong, and move ahead from there in order to make progress.

In his words, "Progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man" (Mere Christianity).

And just one more: "I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on."

Now, I think we can agree that humanity has screwed something up—the brokenness, hunger, poverty, shattered relationships, pain, and death in the world testify to that. But if where we're heading isn't progress, where did we go wrong? Where is the place we need to go back to in order to move forward?

In the book of Jeremiah, God tells his people through his prophet, "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6: 16). And that is our answer. The "good way" is the "old" way—the way to life and freedom and growth that exists through God and his Son, Jesus Christ. In writing God off as old-fashioned, humanity has made a grave miscalculation, but in trying to press forward without correcting it we're moving further from the solution, not closer to it.

The way forward exists in God, and only in God. The "old" way, the way established at the very dawn of the world, is not irrelevant just because it isn't novel. The sooner the world realizes that going back is the quickest way on, the sooner we will make real progress toward the true and ultimate goal—eternal life in God's Kingdom.

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