Apocalypse and Hope

This week I was listening to Philip Clayton debrief his book, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. Clayton is a progressive, Process theologian who refuses to give up on resurrection.

Real resurrection, it seems. Not the sort of “redefine resurrection such that happy things are happening in your heart” kind of resurrection.

In the podcast he says, in essence, that he can’t let go of resurrection because that would be to let go of justice. There is hope for true justice, true rectification, for the poor and oppressed.

This is what caused resurrection expectations to flower in the first place, and Clayton won’t give up on it.

It just so happened that the day I was listening to this podcast, I was also teaching on Mark 13. The chapter that begins, innocently enough, with Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction ends with the darkening of the sun and stars and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, sending his messengers out to the four corners of the world to gather the elect.

In between?

Lots of bad stuff.

Wars and earthquakes, yes. But more significantly: persecution. Persecution as of such a kind as has never been seen before.

The story that begins with earthly calamity resolves with some sort of heavenly intervention, a intervention of divine glory through the person of the Son of Man.

Scholars have debated how much this passage intends to refer to A.D. 70 and how much it intends to refer to a future, coming arrival of Jesus. N. T. Wright, for one, has argued that the destruction of Jerusalem is a final act of vindication for Jesus, the prophet, and that this coming on the clouds is his enthronement.

Traditionally, of course, this language has been read as referring to Jesus’ return–perhaps to judge the world, definitely to set all things to rights.

Scholars who do not agree with Wright will sometimes argue that the entire speech of Mark 13 is a subject shift: an answer to the question about the end of the age, without tying that answer to the destruction of the Temple.

The context clues, however, are far too strong for this. Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was looming in the years when Mark was written.

And, Jesus’ vindication as a true prophet is tied up with this judgment on the “vineyard keepers” (Mark 12:1ff.).

And, I would not be at all surprised to hear that those who were wrapped up in the horrors of that war anticipated that the culmination of their time of trial would be a revelation that their pains were climactic labor pains, giving birth to the age to come.

In the face of suffering and injustice, we must not only work for justice (for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven), but also hope that this injustice will be reversed through the power of God who gives life to the dead.

Again and again we will find that no one knows the hour: not the angels or people or even the son. But we cannot give up on the hope.

Suffering cannot overcome hope.

Tears must be dried.

We continue to believe in resurrection, in final eschatological reversal, because we believe in the God who has bound Himself to the story in which all things are set to rights.

The God who authors this story, the God who stars in this story, will see to it that the story is brought to its promised culmination.

Even if that culmination, and its timing, surprise us all.

6 thoughts on “Apocalypse and Hope”

  1. The universal desire for justice and the hatred of death fly in the face of the neo-Darwinian shrieks of Dawkins et al. If death were natural then why would we complain about it, hate it and fight it? Death is the last enemy, which possibly means the ultimate enemy — the enemy that lies under all other enemies. It is in fact the hatred of death that is natural — the sense of its alien-ness, its enmity.

    You tell us, Daniel, that “We continue to believe in resurrection, in final eschatological reversal, because we believe in the God who has bound Himself to the story in which all things are set to rights.” But that belief in need for setting all things to rights is a fundamental quality of human beings, whose instincts all point in the opposite direction to that which would logically conform to Dawkins.

    How does it come about that the idea of ancestor survival is so persistent in many societies? Why is it that the death of an unborn child so frequently brings about deep and lasting psychological trauma in its parents? Why is there such credence given to irrational psychic phenomena? It is because we long for death to be overcome. Death is the ultimate injustice, the reality that ought not to be.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  2. I think the destruction of the Temple is also tied to the Apocalypse in that, as we see in Revelation, there is no Temple. It explicitly states that there is no need for a Temple because we will be with God. I believe that early Christians caught on to that even before the Temple was destroyed.

  3. Here I go psychologizing again (… why is that bad, btw? …the splendid thing about Narratives as opposed to Propositions is that a good one doesn’t mean just one thing…) and it seems to me that another possibility is that Jesus is talking about His onrushing personal death, and by extension Everybody’s. “When you see the Abomination of Desolation standing in the place where it ought not to be …” then don’t cling to your civilized house and clothing, but flee to the Mountain as when Moses visited with God revealed in clouds of glory. Death is the “final enemy”, that is the last one each of us will face, and how does Jesus call on us to treat with our enemies but to turn the other cheek in love, to go with them the extra mile.

    As a matter of fact, I think fear of personal death and pain is a major stumbling block that leads us into anger and great selfishness. There are limits to a proper self-defense. That is, while “it isn’t unreasonable to prefer the destruction of the whole world to suffering a hangnail”, it sure is immoral, not to mention unChristian. For those who think the Second Person Incarnate was Omnipotent, He had a choice and he chose to give this one lesson on how to open the door to the Holy Spirit rather than sticking around continuing to teach by parables. “I have told you all things already.”

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