Thursday, 6 November 2008
On Remaining Apocalyptic (somehow)
It is easy to dismiss apocalyptic in the Bible. Just as easy as it is to think it applies literally. Perhaps there is another way. Take Matt 25:1-13. (This parable, while not necessarily all that apocalyptic, occurs within the apocalyptic discourse of the Matthean Jesus. See Matt Cc 24-25.) The parable is, at the very least, enjoining readiness upon the disciples. Be ready for the Son of Man's return. The readiness referred to here is living the life of discipleship. (There is a parallel here between the wise and foolish virgins and the wise and foolish men of Matt 7:24-27, especially vs 24 - "hears and acts on them".) Be a disciple who hears and acts now. It seems to me that it is very easy in life to forget the urgency of the call to obedient discipleship. Apocalyptic, for all its problems, retains this, and it seems to me that those who take apocalyptic seriously, no matter how repugnant some other aspects of apocalyptic, are much more urgent than the more 'progressive' view of the life of discipleship. The progressives (of which I am one) have a tendency to look at the life of discipleship over an anticipated lifetime. Hardly urgent.
So what is it that we find problematic in apocalyptic? It is bit on the black and white side, over the top interventionist, and bound up in a three tiered universe. The destruction wrought seems a bit excessive to say the least, and the events that bring the End seem so perfectly timed and coordinated. However, let us not mistake the form (the features above) for the content. Some of what I might label the content includes: readiness (as above), God's plan for salvation, the need for evil (yes, evil) to be dealt with, and perhaps most importantly, the coming of God's kingdom is not a nice, smooth development from history to kingdom, but brings with it a massive interruption of things as they are and the usual expectations of the future. It is God's kingdom that comes, and while God may use us and our work now as building blocks of this kingdom, it is entirely new and surprising. The question is, however, can we retain all this content in a new form? (That is, in a non-apocalyptic form?) I remain unconvinced.