"The Evolution of Human Consciousness: and why we should be more open about The Bible" by Devon Bailey
It’s impossible to look at the human race and not see an evolution of awareness happening. Each generation brings about new questions about who we are and who we are supposed to be. Often a former way of thinking is challenged by an oppressed group and allies who have seen a different way to be in the world. In America, this is usually marked by marches and protests. Take the Civil Rights Movements of the sixties, the Woman Suffrage movements, and today’s movements for LGBTQ persons.
It also happens with the advent of a new technology. We once thought the earth was flat. We once thought the sky was a glassy firmament with windows that let the sky waters in. But now we have photographs of our round home and we’ve sent men into the sky so that they could walk on the rock that lights up our nights.
We continue to learn more and more with each new generation. Humanity is constantly challenging its former way of knowing. Often this means there will be tension with adapting to the new. We don’t resist change as much as we resist loss. “This is how I’ve understood everything and now I’m being shown that I was possibly off-base.” It can be truly painful to have the rug taken out from under us. But nevertheless we are left with a choice, we can either accept this new understanding or ignore it and hold to the former. Which is why black men and women had to protest. Because some people are just stubborn. It’s why libraries were burned and scientist were murdered by the Church for things that nearly all human beings accept today. Things like explaining rainbows and the roundness of our planet.
We resist losing our sense of understanding. However, the truth stands to be interpreted with each new generation because we continue to find new ways of understanding. We continue to reach new levels of awareness.
This is incredibly important when I, as a person of faith, talk about the Bible. Growing up I basically believed the Bible was written by God in the clouds and then handed to humans here on Earth. That God guided the pen-stroke to create a perfect book filled with truth and without error. I could trust its historical claims. I could trust its scientific claims. I could trust it all the way through to tell me right from wrong. But then I learned, at least on a historic level, it didn’t always align. Details were different. In fact I found it did this by the second chapter of Genesis. I started to see humanity in the pages of the Bible which led to a disruption that created many questions in me. But rather than ask those questions, I picked up picket signs in my heart. I created a resistance within. I closed off my evolving consciousness. The Bible was how I understood the world. So I wouldn’t allow anything else in. It’s better to question those things than question the Bible. And it makes perfect and necessary sense for us to respond this way.
But you can only bend so much truth towards your way of understanding before you realize quite simply…you are wrong. That you are defending an image rather than seeing it for what it really is.
I had placed myself in a pattern of ignoring criticism. Why? Because I didn’t want to be wrong. Just like the groups who claim racial superiority to others and resist the pleas from the marginalized to be seen. I saw “my truth” as superior. My need to be right was more dominative than my desire to let right be right. I was too afraid to transcend my former way of understanding. But then something shocking happened.
The Bible revealed the very transcendence I was avoiding. The Bible revealed the very evolution I was protecting myself from.
Imagine being one of the earliest conscious human beings. To avoid an argument about evolution just imagine someone 6,000 years ago. Most of your day would be spent hunting and gathering. Some days you would go out to collect your harvest just to find that it hadn’t rained enough. Why hasn’t it rained? You need these plants to survive and so you start to panic. It’s been weeks since its rained so what can we do to help the sky open up? Well, we need to get the attention of whoever it is that makes it rain. Perhaps the being in the sky who makes it rain is upset with us? How can we show this being, lets call it a god, our love? Well, the rain god makes these crops grow, so let’s build an altar to this god and each time it rains we will set aside some crops to the rain god as a statement of our thanks. That’ll do the trick! And so you start a deal with the god and it seems to be going well for a while.
But then it doesn’t rain for months.
You must have done something to upset the god. And so you offer more crops.
But still no rain.
So you try and offer something more valuable than crops….animals. So you take your altar to a higher place, closer to the heavens, and you sacrifice an animal.
But still no rain.
So you offer what is most holy to you. Because you need the rain to live. You need the favor of this god. And so you offer this god your child.
Child sacrifice then became common in the whole world. It’s actually how we meet our first patriarch Abraham. The reason Abraham doesn’t scream back NO WAY to God when asked to sacrifice his child (his only child whom he loved) is in part because there was nothing shocking about a God asking for the burnt offering of your firstborn.
But what happens in the story?
The LORD stops Abraham from doing this. In this story, this god provides the sacrifice for man. The authors of scripture here are making a provocative statement about what they believe about their god. When we read a book like Leviticus it’s easy to think “How in the world did this barbarism make it into the Bible?” But we fail to see how shockingly progressive it would have been for the early audience. That whole sense of doubt about if your god was pleased with you or not? If you should sacrifice more or not…? Here’s a way you can know you have a right standing with this god. If you sin, offer this, and you can walk away without further shame. It’s a movement forward towards a new way of understanding what God is like. This god cares. This god is involved. Suddenly we have a temple where people can come and be in the literal presence of God. He’s not distant.
The temple was the meeting place of heaven and earth. Where God lived on earth. All cultures would create structures; places where their gods lived. But then another transcendence happened. A new temple came into the world in the presence of a man. Suddenly the meeting place of heaven and earth was found in a man named Jesus who took the tradition to new depths. He was the union of the divine and human. Something that upon his death, and according to the scriptures: his resurrection, is understood to be true about each of us. As Paul says in his first letter to Corinth, “Your body is a temple.”
Do you see the evolution of human consciousness? We’ll read in one letter that “it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to forgive sins.” In fact they viewed the death of this Jesus as putting an end to all sacrifices. Humans could know forever that they had a right standing with God. Because this God flipped the system. This God spilled blood to get to us.
All awareness was disrupted with this man Jesus. So much so that all labels were destroyed “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These are ideas that people would fight and fight. He would be killed for bringing this new awareness of reality to the people. For offering a gospel that was contrary to the gospel of the Roman Empire. He would bring teaching that transcended the religious establishment. People would have a hard time accepting his disruptions. Including Peter, one of the closest followers to Jesus. He protested that there was still a separation between Jew and Gentile. “Surely not!” he protested. But eventually he could no longer bend things towards his truth because he experienced something greater. That if God has made it clean, what could stand in his way!
A living word
When you read the Bible, you witness a people whose story evolves with the rest of humanity. From sacrifice, to a tribal warrior God, to a loving servant, to an indwelling presence within each of us and the whole world. They constantly transcend the former ways for a new awareness. They know that the invitation is to always be drawn deeper into the mystery. Truth is truth, no need to bend towards our ego sense of righteousness. Whatever is true belongs to God. And sometimes we miss the margin of truth because we are not capable of seeing beyond our awareness until we are capable of seeing beyond our awareness.
See it’s not that God changes. It’s that we do. Our awareness is ever-evolving. And in the process so do our words and thoughts of God. We get to take the former and re-assess it in our day and age. The Bible is a testament of this. The Bible is the tradition of this. It’s a living word, constantly being called to be brought to each new generation and each new level of our consciousness. To be viewed and wrestled alongside the vast history of the church.
Yet during the enlightenment, we largely ended that tradition. We got scared. We protested. We resisted the evolution. We crafted concepts like inerrancy and infallibility to fear people from ever searching for meaning beyond the page or beyond the Pope. And because of this we’ve missed out on the great invitation of going deeper into the mystery. The God mystery should be wrestled with by every generation. But sometimes we cling so tightly to another generation that we aren’t present with God now as much as we are with God then. We ground ourselves to their ideas rather than to the Spirit. But as Paul’s letter to the Romans states, God has made himself known through the creation.
We have tools to study creation that the authors of scriptures did not have. And this shouldn’t be cause for concern, it should be cause for fascination! It should not be a great hill to climb to see that ancient ideas of God sound ancient. A God who needed sacrifices makes sense through their eyes. A God who wins battles and justifies their killings of pregnant women and children makes sense in their eyes. But this idea was transcended when a man came and said love your enemies. Where those under Christ didn’t fight against the empire but instead gave their lives rather than do evil. Christ called all of his chosen people into a new awareness, one that lives on to this day. One that evolves deeper into the mystery, not protect itself from that which we now can know. One that grounds itself in the long tradition of those who seek to understand and wrestle with the SAME mystery. That’s what’s so fascinating about The Bible. It’s the word of God in the words of men. Men who share with us the beauty of this God through generation after generation. Culture after culture. Through the many ages of our development.
We carry the scriptures with us, we wrestle with them in light of our life, our burdens, our desires for justice and action. The authors of the scriptures are having real experiences that lead them to transcend and they invite us to do the same. If we want to hear God’s voice that addresses this hour’s need, we need to be willing to also listen to Him in this hour. The scriptures show us the long tradition of doing this. They point us to stories and accounts of others who have done this. They are crafted to help you experience Christ.
It’s not just a word for Christians…it’s a word for everybody. It’s a tool that leads you to bigger questions of who you are and who God is. When you absorb yourself in these words you find spiritual truths like you never imagined. And they indeed will lead you to transcendence!
God doesn’t change but we do. Our ability to know has evolved. God is no longer stuck in the sky. He’s no longer stuck in the temple. He’s no longer stuck in Jesus. He lives in us where He has always been. Inviting us into wonder and beautiful life. Not into stubborn certitudes that rely on “our truth” rather than truth itself. It’s mystery! Wonderful, beautiful mystery! We don’t need to know it all we simply need to come and see! With each generation we are invited to lean in, glorify, and love with childlike wonder. The truth is in the tension. Not in competitive sides. It’s all of use. It all belongs. Wrestle with God! We can never cease to be taken further into the mystery!
I believe God is dramatically far ahead of us and I believe this is the direction He is pulling the universe. Ahead. I don’t believe God is behind us trying to block off the momentum of creation so that we can return to some ideal past. I believe He’s guiding us forward into the mystery.
So what do you think?
Can we become more intelligent about God in the way that we do the universe?
The Bible has primitive views of the universe, views we’ve now transcended because we’ve created new tools to inform our understanding in deeper ways. Is it so shocking to believe that ideas about God were also primitive? Do we still have pagan understandings of God?
Has the Spirit always been calling us further into the great mystery? That our level of consciousness has always had its limitations generation after generation? Yet, with each stage of human development we transcend the former limitations. Do we ignore this movement for the sake of preserving ancient ideas?
Should we welcome evolution?