I think a defining question we as Christians have to ask is "is God still active in his mission to redeem the world to himself?" On a micro-level the answer is an obvious yes. I've seen many lives changed through the work of God. But what about on a bigger level? Is God still active on a grander scale, pulling all of humanity and culture to a better understanding of who he is? Throughout history we have a lot of examples to look at which would suggest this has been happening all along.
Let's start at the beginning.
When people would have been talking about the creation story it would have been drastically different than anything else around at the time. The gods in the Old Testament times were always somewhere else, on top of a mountain or in a huge temple, and the mortals were their play things. The only time they got involved in such lesser affairs was when someone made them happy so they blessed them, or someone made them angry so they cursed them, or just some random meddling for no reason.
But not the God in our creation story. This is a God who created humanity in his image. This is a God who walks with humans in the shade of the night. This is a God so intimately involved with humanity that everyone was naked and felt no shame. That's a massive step forward in how humanity understood its relationship with God.
Within that same timeframe people were organized into tribes. Tribes had one main purpose: protection; mostly from other not so friendly tribes, so your tribe can continue on. Tribes would frequently war with other tribes, so if you had a big tribe, with lots of virile young men, you had a good tribe. That meant you had people who could fight, and people who could procreate to keep your tribe alive. Everything about the tribe was inwardly focused.
But then God creates a tribe, and this tribe is different. God blesses this tribe, which wasn't a new thing. All tribes had gods who would bless them. But this tribe was blessed so that it could be a blessing to every other tribe. No longer were they to be about themselves, instead they were to go out and put God on display for the rest of the world. Another pull forward.
Let's say you're a farmer in those time. You recognize that you're completely dependent on things like the sun and rain to be able to provide food for your family. Unfortunately those things are completely out of your control, those are the things that the gods control. You want the gods to be happy with you so they'll give you just the right amount of sun and rain, not two much of one without the other. The way you make the gods happy with you is by a sacrifice, and the god's could demand whatever sacrifice they desired.
Since that was the understanding, it shouldn't come as a surprise that when God ordered Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him Abraham obliged. That's what gods did, they demanded sacrifices, and you had better give to their exact whim otherwise you incur their wrath.
But again, this God is pulling his people further. This isn't a God who demands, this is a God who provides. This isn't a God who takes, it's a God who gives. And he gives to the point of his son taking the place of all sacrifices.
And since we've jumped to Jesus...
Jesus was constantly pulling people into a deeper understanding of God and what it means to be God's people.
Remember the time he was debating a religious expert about how to properly live the life of God, and Jesus tells him the only way he can do it is by loving the people he hates the most?
Or how about all of the "you have heard it said... but I say to you" in Matthew 5 where he takes the laws and customs they've established to live right with God to a whole new level.
Then there's the time he's talking about divorce with the experts of the law and he says the reason Moses permitted them to divorce their wife was because their hearts were hard. They weren't ready for where God was taking them yet, but they were then.
So do we stop there? Were the stories collected thousands of years ago the end, or is God still trying to take us to new places and understandings of him we weren't ready for before?
What about the slavery? It was quite easy to biblically defend slavery, and many people did. Even the papacy remained silent on the issue for many years. As late as 1866 (the same year that Congress passed the Civil Rights Act to protect the rights of African-Americans) the papacy declared that, subject to conditions, it was not against divine law to for a slave to be sold, bought, or exchanged. Hundreds of years later, we look at that in disgust, and we understand that God has called us further.
Or how about women's rights? Moses and Jesus both brought their people further than they had been previously. Should we have stopped there, when women were just property, had few opportunities other than being a wife or prostitute, and couldn't speak or hold authority within the church? Should we understand women's suffrage as immoral and against God's will, or is that evidence that God is still active and pulling humanity further towards his kingdom?
The Talking Ass (KJV)
All of these remind me of the story of Balaam and his donkey.
Balaam is riding his donkey to meet with the king of Moab. Along the way God sends an angel with his sword drawn to block the path. Balaam fails to see the angel, but his donkey does, so the donkey changes the path to protect Balaam. Balaam beats the donkey until it's back on the path he set out, only to have it happen two more times. The third time the donkey speaks, and tells him of the angel blocking the path, and the angel reveals he would have killed Balaam had it not been for the donkey.
God's people had been on a path, a path initially laid out by God. But we'd staid on that path for too long, and missed the angel that God had sent to block it. Meanwhile the rest of the world was trying to get us onto the right path. Our initial response was to force the world back to the initial path, but once God uses the donkey to speak to us we recognize the angel.
But what about marriage equality? Is God pulling us forward to grant people born homosexual the same rights and dignities as those born heterosexual? Are we to recognize the same divine spark in them as we do ourselves? Unfortunately many within the church are choosing to say no, these brothers and sisters aren't deserving of equality, they don't have the same divine spark, and they aren't allowed to equally participate in God's kingdom. Meanwhile the donkey is veering off the path again.
Brothers and sisters, God is still speaking, he's still active in his work to bring all things to him. It's time we listen to the donkey and recognize the angel. We can no longer continue down the same path. It's time we stand up for the rights and dignities of our homosexual brothers and sisters who have had them refused, even when we have been the ones refusing. God is calling us to welcome them into full participation with the divine because there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male and female, nor heterosexual or homosexual, for we are all one in Christ.