In the area of scientific and technological knowledge, most anyone would agree that we have made great progress over the course of human history, especially in the recent past. Many recent developments in our understanding of the physical world involve counterintuitive conclusions. The physical world turns out to be a very different place than commonsense and long held beliefs would indicate. The mystery of physical existence continues to grow with each new discovery.
In contrast, in the religious/spiritual realm, many would have us believe that all knowledge was solidified in the distant past. Human spiritual development supposedly only requires re-capturing the ancient truths and applying them to the current situation. Interestingly, the same people who see all religious/spiritual truth as pre-existing, also generally espouse a need for continuing study of the ancient, sacred writings. One might wonder why a truth revealed and canonized many centuries ago requires further study and evaluation. Clearly continuing study cannot be a valid exercise unless new truths or at least new levels of truth are there to be uncovered. Newness to be discovered is the essence of growth and evolution in understanding.
A well-known song expounds on the desire to have that “Old-time Religion.” The lyrics suggest that the same level of spiritual understanding and development which prevailed in the past is still what we need today. How can we remain in or return to the past and call that progress or growth. Stagnation has never been the hallmark of our understanding of the physical realm, so why would that be the case in the religious/spiritual? If continued growth in spiritual understanding is not a part of God’s plan then what has the 2000 years since Christ been all about? Has God ceased to work in human history for man’s benefit? These are questions which challenge us today.
Can I be in the spiritual growth business if I forsake the notion of change, if I don’t move to a different spiritual state than where my parents and grandparents were? If I admit a need to change and grow, that is not an indictment of those who embraced the “old-time” religion. They were where their circumstances allowed them to be, but my case is different. Mankind must build on the spiritual understanding of previous generations, taking advantage of what has been handed down and yet growing beyond what they attained. To do otherwise is to ignore the lessons of the physical creation, which, as the Bible indicates, mirrors the mind and nature of God. Continual spiritual growth for each individual and for mankind as a whole would seem to be the underlying reason for human history in general.
As we approach the effort to expand our spiritual understanding, I would expect that new knowledge to be counterintuitive, like what scientists are discovering in the physical realm. The old time concepts of absolutes that were the hallmark of the old-time religion may not turn out to be the whole story, any more than Newtonian classical physics turned out to be the final word in the structure of the physical universe. Just as thinking “outside the box” is often necessary to progress in the physical world, the same is likely required in the spiritual.