September 22, 2014

The Triduan Shape of History

Entombment of Christ, Raphael (detail)

Entombment of Christ, Raphael (detail)

Today, we follow up yesterday’s post on The Most Vexing Question. To me, the fundamental quandaries raised in the piece were:

Who would have thought that the life of Jesus’ church in “the last days” would span a history as long as Israel’s before Christ? And that our history would be as checkered under the risen and reigning Christ? Is there any indication of this in the New Testament?

Perhaps one way of coming to grips with this conundrum is to reimagine the shape of history and the mission of the church and to distinguish “hope” from “optimism.”

That is what Alan E. Lewis has done in his monumental study, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. In brief, Lewis suggests that our perspective on history and the future should be shaped by the church’s experience of the Great Three Days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This is our core narrative and it lays down the pattern by which we live and view life. It is a cruciform perspective in which resurrection follows death and despair and recognizes the place of all three as essential movements in the way God (and therefore, history) works.

However, the church has not always recognized this. Lewis writes, “Much has happened since the first Easter Saturday to dull the keenness of the questions facing Christian faith and life concerning history and its future” (p. 262).

He notes that the early Christians, living as they did in the midst of trials, persecution, and social exile, had a vision of the end and their own resurrection that would be attained only through sharing in Christ’s sufferings (see, for example Philippians 3:10-11). However, Lewis continues, once the Empire was Christianized and the church became more comfortable and optimistic about its own future, apocalypticism with its dark shadows was largely jettisoned, replaced by sunnier, more linear theologies of progressive victory until the glorious end. Lament was transformed into complacency; the cross into a symbol of triumphalism.

Nevertheless, not even the best-informed, most responsible reading of Revelation, or the most Christocentric and trinitarian discussion of the “end days” can evade the haunting implications of the church’s identifying three-day narrative, centered upon Easter Saturday. For that insists — and nothing in our contemporary experience contradicts its awful truthfulness — that the God of Jesus Christ does not intervene to prevent catastrophe and rupture. As grace abounds only beyond sin’s great magnitude and increase, so resurrection and consummation do not cancel or impede but strictly follow after termination and annihilation, for God and humanity alike. The very promise of the eschaton confirms rather than refutes God’s freedom to be death’s victim, the defenseless quarry of predatory evil; and the only hope and power for a divine redeeming of humanity and history rest in a Lamb who has pathetically been slaughtered: the embodiment of hopelessness and helplessness. (p. 282)

In Revelation, remember, the Lamb on the throne is bloody.

In other words, Lewis says, we must conceive God’s creative and re-creative power “from the standpoint of the grave, as dynamic surrender to suffering and restriction” (p. 297). If God exposed himself to destruction by abandoning his beloved Son to death, the One in whom all creation holds together, in order to save that creation, it gives us a much different view of how the people who follow the Son shall attain to perfection. We take up our cross, and follow him.

To see God self-exposed thus to destruction between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, for the sake of history’s deliverance from destruction, is to recognize that the creative and redemptive omnipotence of God, far from invulnerable and impervious to opposition is in fact an exquisitely perilous power which does not protect itself against the catastrophe and boundless sorrow which would be creation’s devastation and time’s annihilation. (p. 298)

In other words, God only exercises his rule in a context where evil triumphs (if only for a season).

Here is an extended quote, summarizing Alan Lewis’s perceptive thoughts.

41DWSpywoPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Not the least sobering implication of the triduan story we have now both heard and thought is that the Christian gospel requires of those who live by it unflinching discrimination between hope and optimism. For if our narrative encouragingly promises that at work within us and around us are energies greater than the powers of death and evil which menace and destroy life and empty it of meaning, purpose, and justice, still the story gravely identifies those energies with the wispy, intangible defenselessness of love. And love’s power is actually powerless to impede huge triumphs of egregious evil and unrighteousness in the world. Only through vulnerable victimization at the hands of sin and death, and not by blocking, crushing, or annihilating those agents of destruction, does the triune God of righteous love flourish yet more abundantly than the luxurious barrenness of hate and wickedness.

To hope, therefore, in love as tomorrow’s guarantor, as even more creative and enduring than the great destructiveness of lovelessness, is itself to banish shallow optimism for the future of the world. Hope itself embraces the proposition that evil may increase, death have its day of triumph, and history be terminated. Certainly any sunny supposition that the world cannot be lost, nor death be finally victorious, that evil at worst is inept and its success provisional and passing, is cancelled by a darker hope, grounded in Easter Saturday, which confesses that the only victory in life is won by going beyond, not by thwarting or reducing, the expansive magnitude of death and the surd reality of its ascendancy. Faith’s assurance of the final consummation of the cosmos does not preclude but makes space of fearsome amplitude for the future loss of history, just as the Son of God’s third-day resurrection did not forestall ahead of time, nor cancel retroactively, the end of himself and of the world on the second day.

Between Cross and Resurrection, p. 261f

In other words, God did not and does not win by winning. Neither will the church. We attain to Easter only through Good Friday and Holy Saturday. There will be no resurrection, no consummation, without intervening death and despair. “. . . if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

The cry “How long?” will continue to the very last day.

Comments

  1. The Christian life is, and will be no picnic.

    But as Peter said, when the Lord asked him if he was going to leave, too…””Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

  2. petrushka1611 says:

    “Only through vulnerable victimization at the hands of sin and death, and not by blocking, crushing, or annihilating those agents of destruction, does the triune God of righteous love flourish yet more abundantly than the luxurious barrenness of hate and wickedness.”

    That sounds right in line with a lot of what I read in Bernard Eller’s “Christian Anarchy.” And while I can understand it, it’s a darker doorway than I’m able to walk through right now.

  3. I have a swirl of thoughts on this issue which if elaborated would come out as, well, a swirl. So be it. Anyway, for anyone interested I have put in a link, if that’s ok, to an interesting article which presents a Jungian perspective on the end times which, occasionally, in some cases, mirrors this post. Jung placed particular importance on each individual soul and its work of salvation in holding back the tidal violence.
    http://www.litjournal.com/docs/fea_jung.html

    • Sorry if I’m missing the broader topic and narrowing it to ‘the end times’. That’s just what struck me as I read at this late hour. Good night.

  4. Nice to see Alan Lewis’ book getting some well-deserved attention.

  5. Robert F says:

    ” As grace abounds only beyond sin’s great magnitude and increase, so resurrection and consummation do not cancel or impede but strictly follow after termination and annihilation, for God and humanity alike.”

    CM, will the the church, the human race, planet Earth, the solar system and the entire created order die out, then, before the re-appearing of Jesus Christ and the renewal of all things? That seems to be what is said here.

    • Robert F says:

      This is actually what I’ve thought might be true for a long time, but when I have been bold enough to bring it up in conversation, I’m inevitably treated as the most dour pessimist.

      I wonder, though, how we can find a place in this theology for supporting life, for raising children, for helping the helpless, for working for justice and peace, when we know that such work, such help, such raising, such support must itself fail and die before evil has spent itself. What provides our motive, as Christian people, to go on living, and engaging life at its difficult points, when we are bound to fail? Where does our energy come to live and exist in the penultimate, as we await the ultimate, which will happen only on the other side of death and failure?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > when I have been bold enough to bring it up in conversation,
        > I’m inevitably treated as the most dour pessimist.

        Yep.

        > I wonder, though, how we can find a place in this theology for supporting life,
        > for raising children, for helping the helpless, for working for justice and peace …

        It is both profound and bold while at the same time being a hair’s width from “why bother?”.

        And if *that* was Christ’s message why come when he did? Why not wait a few thousand years until he could address a people capable of comprehending such time lines – a people who had the math, instead appear and address a message to a people completely incapable of understanding what you were saying? This is the hardest part of this interpretation to reconcile; if this is what God meant he needs to hire a PR firm as his communication skills are abominable. A God that inept becomes a hard God to believe in.

        > What provides our motive, as Christian people, to go on living, and engaging
        > life at its difficult points, when we are bound to fail?

        Perhaps this explains, practically, a lot. Perhaps this is why the Church, aside from a few sects, has largely retreated from engagement. In defeat the church is triumphant, and there is any easier less painful [sort of] way to defeated. Just lie down. One really cannot expect people, especially those with family, to spend a millennium throwing themselves under the bus.

        If you believe your religion has essentially zero effect on events and the time line of history… it can be a story that lacks a story. God called out a people unto himself, placed them under burdensome regulation as well as the barbarians lash for an age, then called out of them a messiah, killed him, said “See – Love!”, then left behind a post-it note “Be back to fix everything in a trillion years, but be good till then.”. Poor people, living in mud huts and dieing of the flu and diarrhea, look at each other with puzzled expressions “what does a `trillion` mean?”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      CM, will the the church, the human race, planet Earth, the solar system and the entire created order die out, then, before the re-appearing of Jesus Christ and the renewal of all things? That seems to be what is said here.

      Well, the story of the Cosmos (not just Earth, humanity, or our “Prophesied Last Generation”) won’t really be over until the Heat Death and/or Big Rip…

      • Robert F says:

        “Well, the story of the Cosmos (not just Earth, humanity, or our “Prophesied Last Generation”) won’t really be over until the Heat Death and/or Big Rip…”

        Yes, I know.

  6. I wonder, does a theology (or lack thereof) of a Fall from a perfect state influence one’s view of the end-times, and of the shape of history?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      It seems reasonable that it does. Of course one’s image of “a perfect state” quickly goes into the weeds as well.

      I believe in a Fall. I find “from a perfect state” to be a useless statement. I believe in a Fall – I am not sure what that means precisely.

      Scripture does not seem much at all interested in discussing that in detail. Many preachers address this by stringing together verses lifted from all over Scripture into a kind of fragile paper chain. This is why the duration, and the eschatology, are such tender spots to people… IF it IS so important, why is it not CLEAR? IF it is not important, as lack of clarity/focus might mean, WHAT THEN?

      In the end the only guide we have is those things which Scripture does seem to constantly return to – and Scripture reads, at least to me, as not being very “theological” and not placing a lot of value on systematic understanding. Is that an essential meme of Scripture or the fingerprints of its human authors and their culture(s)?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I wonder, does a theology (or lack thereof) of a Fall from a perfect state influence one’s view of the end-times, and of the shape of history?

      A lot of pre-Christian societies had the general idea of degeneration from a mythic Golden Age. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and Age of Reason that the idea of continuous Upward Progress hit critical mass.

      Thing is, Darbyite Dispensationalism returns to this ancient/pre-Christian trope of everything degenerating and getting worse until (or bringing about) The End.

  7. William Martin says:

    In the revolutionary way of our Christ to lay himself down when the authority to take being King was his but also his temptation. Long Have I seen a person under no circumstances picking up a sword or instrument of war to further his kingdom. Instead I wonder if it were possible for me to lay everything down I know. This would mean my house my belongings even my children and family for love. Truly a lamb among wolves. I know that this to me seems impossible and would certainly be the hardest thing I could imagine. A generation who no longer considers it worth fighting and killing over that which perishes but lays down. This is the picture I get of Christ’s return. We wonder why so long but in effect we are the reason why. Was it any easier for the early church when we saw so many martyrs. Yet then the christians who had very little became the scapegoats of evil rulers. I would imagine that the things I have seen would not be popular to american world power. Most people would want their children to grow up not knowing all the brutal hardships of evil and I am included. Our victory may not necessarily look like we imagine as it was with those of the time Jesus walk the earth in his mortal body. So often do I see a higher way in everything he was doing going beyond what I would first think and even beyond second and third thoughts. Victory knows not our timeline and it doesn’t mean it necessarily has to happen here. I only see that turning my cheek and loving my enemy and the seed must go into the ground and all what he was talking about and I wonder so if I could ever have followed such a radical course. So I am glad he did for me and declared I was worth it and God himself made declarations that he said he would keep and this is my faith but not really my faith as much as it is him. This has me thinking all the time. I know I want him to come back and stop all this but I too say not tonight. I am much older and it becomes easier once so much of my life has passed by.

  8. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > In other words, God only exercises his rule in a context where
    > evil triumphs (if only for a season).

    I understand what this is saying.

    But I cannot help but be *VERY* troubled by how very easily it settles into a cruel sociopath’s ideal world. That “season” – outside of metaphor – may be generations of living in fetid squalor, day-to-day brutal toil, untreated physical agony, daughters dragged away by soldiers, and helpless despair clutching the hands of dying friends. And may those people’s tyrant say to himself as he slips between his clean sheets every night: “God only exercises his rule in a context where evil triumphs”.

    • Let us not forget that it was the perseverance of the martyr church that led to the Christianization of the empire.

      • flatrocker says:

        Which leads to power.
        Which leads to heterodoxy
        Which leads to complacency
        Which leads to heresy
        Which leads to apostasy
        Which leads to persecution
        Which leads to martyrdom
        Which leads to….dear Lord remove me from this gerbil wheel of history

        • Or, it could simply lead us, in our generation, to say, “Our job in this era of history is to follow Jesus, to lay down our lives for our neighbors out of love for God and them, to bear whatever sufferings that brings, and to trust that God will bring resurrection life out of that sacrifice of love.”

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            With which I agree whole heartedly.

            But that does not make me comfortable with the theology – or how easily, almost trivially, it becomes nothing more than florid prose used to dismiss agony or to cover or excuse callousness and cruelty. How many Christians have answered with “Well, that’s just how the world is.” [stated this word for word, I was standing there] There are many days when I hate Theology.

          • William Martin says:

            I agree CM. I walk up a mountain for my closet it serves me in all my needs. I was saying to him one day I believe I could be nailed to a tree easier than living in this world even as hard as that sounds. I am no stranger to physical pain and a day or two of that would be easier than a lifetime of my soul crying for what I see. The answer back was I am not asking you to be nailed to a tree but I am asking you to lay down your life for me. Then he showed me what you stated. I have realized that greater things can be serving others day to day as he would have done in his community had he not the appointment with the cross. I see this as he wept over Jerusalem. I have to believe that I am only going to go so far here as I have seen this. I hate to think of consolation prizes because I am not a loser. Yet my consolation is that I have walked on the foundation of others as well it will be with those who will come after me. How it all works out is not up to me. Never was. He has always done right by me and so it shall be. Working this all out day to day seems to be enough trouble for me. I must say though this forum has had me look up all kinds of words and ideas which is profitable to me in so many ways. I am grateful, so thank you all.

          • Alan Lewis died of cancer shortly after finishing this book.

          • That means he’s up there with Michael Spencer, comparing notes and cooking Italian food for the Mob.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Sounds like something from Warhammer 40K.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But I cannot help but be *VERY* troubled by how very easily it settles into a cruel sociopath’s ideal world. That “season” – outside of metaphor – may be generations of living in fetid squalor, day-to-day brutal toil, untreated physical agony, daughters dragged away by soldiers, and helpless despair clutching the hands of dying friends. And may those people’s tyrant say to himself as he slips between his clean sheets every night: “God only exercises his rule in a context where evil triumphs”.

      “So we should sin more, that Grace shall abound?”

      What that’s saying is something I’ve encountered in the logcal followthrough to a lot of Christians’ attitude: God can only be Glorified under Third World Dictator/North Korea/Khmer Rouge conditions. The boot stamping on the face forever, Praise God And Comrade Dear Leader, His Servant!

      (Also has overtones of all those Cold War-era Guns & Ammo and Soldier of Fortune editorials about Spoiled Rotten Baby-Fat Americans degenerated from Our Rugged Ancestors and Rugged Founding Fathers vs the Rugged Communist Supermen.)

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > something I’ve encountered in the logcal followthrough to a lot of Christians’ attitude

        Sadly, I’ve met it many times as well. It-will-all-burn is an extreme and actually pretty rare belief to be see articulated. But something more subtle, and just as ugly, is alive and well in a lot of middle-class western Christianity.

      • Cedric Klein says:

        While we need a corrective from Triumphalism, a Crown without a Cross, and Prosperity Theology, this article has the tone of eloquently rehashing the all-too pervasive Defeatism, Perpetual Crucifixion, and Poverty Theology that prompted the above. The Beast’s boot forever stomps the Martyr’s face, the Rapist continually violates the Bride, the Lash flays perpetually the flesh of the Slave, the Lion shall always rend the Lamb, the Vine and the Fig Tree always burned by the Invader, and there shall be no peace this side of the Grave.

        Tell me how this isn’t easily distorted into the worst caricature of PessiMillenialism, and doesn’t make one long for either the Blazing Christophany at Armageddon, or the slow & unsteady but still real Evangelization & DIscipline of the world & the flooding of the globe with the very effective Law & Gospel of God.

        • I’ll tell you how — because you are misreading it. Like God’s Son himself, Christians are called “love to the uttermost.” That is the positive, life-affirming, missional vocation of the church. But we live in a world of powers that resist and often actively oppose love. In the short and medium term, they often “win.” The triduan perspective maintains hope that love will ultimately win in the truest sense and therefore continues to love in the face of suffering. I don’t see anything defeatist or pessimistic about this. Jesus’ path tells us something quite different. So does Paul, whom we will explore tomorrow. Both tell us that the only path to life is by way of the cross.

  9. Patrice says:

    I don’t expect the Bible to have answers to such questions because it was written by a bunch of humans like me and we were not created with a capacity to know the future. This interim time is hardest for those who see the Bible is the only text through which we can hear God’s voice, making God increasingly distant in time.

    My idea is that God is still creating us in this time on this broken earth. We are required to choose daily, in big/open and small/hidden ways, whether to go towards good or evil. I suspect that this struggle forms us into better companions for God, wiser creatures who have chosen the good, which is also Him/Her, in all ramifications. At any rate, I would find us, after that, more capable of interesting relationship.

    If indeed nothing will be lost, then all that we suffer, and the time it is taking, is for a purpose. A purpose much more wonderful than we can imagine, if scripture is true. (So best to try to be as imaginative as possible, lol)

  10. Patrice says:

    I enjoy Allen Lewis’ analogy, but it is only that, an analogy. There are surely more, and IMO, we need as many as we future-ignorant creatures can find to form possible pictures in the darkness.

    But I do not appreciate this: “Only through vulnerable victimization at the hands of sin and death and not by blocking…those agents of destruction, does the triune God of righteous love flourish yet more abundant than the luxurious barrenness of hate and wickedness.” God is all power and rules at all times in love. Suffering/evil is the opposite of God—we ask why it is allowed but it can never be proof of His majesty. Believing that evil must be allowed so that good may be seen is anathema, and the source of many problems throughout religions. That goodness shows more clearly against upswings of evil is simply a common natural principle in human perception (for eg: black appears more itself next to white, red next to green, etc.) and not intended to be more than that.

    • That’s not what he is saying, Patrice. Evil remains evil. God takes the “risk” of letting it triumph so that resurrection might come.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        That sounds nice, but his taking that “risk” that is no risk, ultimately, to himself, but is a risk *OF* me. I am more persuaded that his is a perilous theological road.

        • SottoVoce says:

          Exactly. I am not a cosmic paper doll and I cannot love or respect a God Who would treat me like one.

      • Patrice says:

        Mike, I’d likely need to read the book rather than take only the quote to give proper criticism, yah?

        But as it stands, I can’t agree that God’s love flourishes through victimization rather than crushing. Or your statement: “In other words, God only exercises his rule in a context where evil triumphs (if only for a season).” The first wording worries me because it is an avenue of sin-submission-makes-pure that has damaged every soul on it, and there have been many. The second worries because it sounds somewhat as if God’s power is mostly for when evil wins.

        I see God’s love as a stability of flourishment: in victimization, in crushing, in peace. Yes, OUR “love is powerless to impede huge triumphs of egregious evil…” but while we might be tortured, starved, suffer under fascism, die painfully from wasting disease, or be overcome by despair to suicide, GOD’S love is far more powerful than that. It covers all so not one bit will be lost from the sufferer, but will be transformed with meaning. All risks that may be are covered top to bottom. “All will be well and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well”. As I see it, we need patience rather than a concession of love’s frailty.

        I like how A. Lewis sees our lives (personally and collectively across time) as echoes of Christ’s pattern of suffering, death, and resurrection but I differ in how he transfers that pattern to us, because I think ours has a different purpose. Christ submitted to victimization and then he said, “It is finished” and love flourished. It was a once-only event. When we submit to victimization, we allow evil to win and love wanes because we are not Christ.

        It is our job to dismantle evil, to relieve suffering, to retrieve people from victimization. That is our sacrifice. The closest we need go to submission is by accepting that we sometimes have thorns that must be endured, remaining intractable even after our prayers and best efforts.

        IMO, of course.

        • I don’t think we disagree as fully as you suggest. As I’ve said in other comments our calling is to love. Love is often resisted and opposed, but we keep on loving in hope that love will ultimately win out. The “risk” of love is that it will be rejected, or worse, ridiculed and persecuted. But this does not cause us to shift from love to a different strategy! No, we love “to the uttermost,” even if it means actually having to lay down our lives. The Apostle Paul understood this, and I will write of him tomorrow.

          • Patrice says:

            Mike, I’m sure we mostly agree too—been enjoying reading some of your old posts (catching up).

            I have had wretched experiences of Christians telling me that submission to victimization is extry-speshul godly (because Christ) but in trying it, I found it utterly destructive for everyone around and self, too. The idea is woven through church history, an extrapolation of God deliberately using evil, in this case sourced in how we view our work compared to Christ’s. Submission to suffering that cannot be avoided is necessary in a narrow way, but the idea needs strong careful framing to keep it from being poisonous, IMO.

            So I jump on wording that can be construed to destructive ends. ;-)

  11. Christiane says:

    I was very moved by these words of ALAN’s

    ” at work within us and around us are energies greater than the powers of death and evil which menace and destroy life and empty it of meaning, purpose, and justice, still the story gravely identifies those energies with the wispy, intangible defenselessness of love.”

    once again, I thought we have no comprehension of the immense power of even one single act of kindness . . .

    if we did have any understanding of this power and of the mechanism of how it worked in the world, how different would our lives be spent ?

    if a saying not originating with the Christophers, but used by them, this: ‘it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness’ . . . all that time spent cursing and finger-pointing seems wasted in the light of ALAN’s words and in the light of the Christophers’ motto;
    and maybe that is what frustrates so many Christian people about fundamentalists whose energies are focused on the evil they see around them in ‘others’ and in ‘the culture’ . . . it’s not about cursing, no . . . it’s about bring the light of Christ

    a simple act of kindness . . . or love, or caritas, or whatever we might call it . . . powerful? immensely powerful?
    enough to move the world? to change the way the world sees things? is it possible? maybe the world isn’t so much ‘evil’ as it is starved for that simple kindness and responds with absolute wonder when it is seen clearly shown . . .

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/11/07/article-0-1939DE0800000578-721_306x423.jpg

  12. I see the value of this line of thought as it regards those who are suffering and need assurance that the grand story is actually headed in the right direction. This is hope for the hopeless.

    But for everyday life it seems to be a bit too defensive for me. And by that, I mean that opposite of “offensive.”

    “The gates of hell shall not prevail” assumes that the church is in the offensive position, pushing back the darkness wherever it finds it. We follow Jesus into the dark places. The Bible uses language of spiritual warfare, defeating the enemies schemes, fighting against principalities and rulers. We wait for cosmic redemption, but we participate in it while we wait. Yes?

    Or am I misreading?

    • I don’t think his words have to be taken so darkly. He urges us to live lives of love, which involves laying down our lives. He also makes the point that, although love inevitably conquers, it is not always “strong” enough to overcome evil in the short term. Whether the road is easy or swarming with love’s enemies, it is the way forward.

  13. David Cornwell says:

    Wendell Berry is not a theologian, so this will not be the answer we are seeking here, yet he helps us understand the word “hope” which perhaps only poetry can do. Some words from one of his poems:

    “For hope must not depend on feeling good
    And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight. …

    “Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
    Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
    Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
    Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
    And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
    Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you” …

    • Christiane says:

      most people don’t dwell on ‘hope’ in the Christian sense, unless they are reduced to circumstances where ‘hope’ is all that remains to the them

      . . . this quote has helped put ‘hope’ into a better Christian perspective for me:

      “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart;
      it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons
      . . . It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense,
      regardless of how it turns out.”

      (Vaclav Havel)

      • David Cornwell says:

        I like that. It is very similar to what I’ve heard Berry say in another context, discussing the difference between hope and optimism. One can be utterly devoid of optimism concerning the future, yet have hope, because it’s an orientation of the spirit. I have a feeling he has read Havel.

        • Danielle says:

          I very much like the distinction between optimism/happiness and hope. For me, this distinction lays hold of faith that there is something good in the world, and beyond it – something which may persist and even grow. But it does not require that one denies the fact of pain, or that one flee from recognizing and expressing what is broken. As though hope were so fragile, that it can only be sustained by blind or lucky people. Likewise, I am not sure happiness and are carelessness are the same thing!

          To see everything, to sorrow and hope, seems both sober and stubborn, in all the best ways.

    • Always appreciate Wendell Berry.

      Another person put it this way; Hope is the truce I make with the God who doesn’t seem to love in the way I do.

  14. Dana Ames says:

    Fr Stephen Freeman wrote on this whole thing recently – caused some unease and gave me a lot to ponder… but I think he’s right. It may not be that it will happen with “heat death or the Big Rip;” after all, the universe kept running even when we had killed its Fashioner, so it may not involve the absolute death of everything. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as nihilistic as “It’s all going to burn anyway.” It is certainly not without hope, for there is the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and the yearning of all creation for its own ultimate fulfillment (Rom 8). But if one understands what an iconic view of things involves, it makes sense. It’s not what we want to hear. But it is something to seriously consider.

    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/07/15/tolkiens-long-defeat/
    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/07/18/the-long-defeat-and-the-cross/
    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2014/07/23/the-church-is-the-cross-through-history/

    Dana

  15. I like being on a list where people quote Wendell Berry.

  16. Robert F says:

    I can imagine Triuan fundamentalist cults doing there best to usher in the Eschaton by ceasing to have children, fasting until death, politically trying to sabotage medical science, promoting pollution, and generally living hyper-destructive lives, etc., the way some End Times fanatics are currently doing their best to get the Temple rebuilt, because they believe it will move the world toward the Apocalypse faster.

  17. Robert F says:

    How does this Triuduan theology fit with Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about Christianity needing, in the contemporary world, to appeal to what is strong and noble in humanity, the vitality at the center of human existence, rather than only the weakness at the periphery and boundary situations? Doesn’t this theology in fact go in the opposite direction, prompting distrust of the energies that form and preserve life, orientating itself around human weakness rather than strength? Doesn’t such a theology lend support to Nietzsche’s (I keep going back to Friedrich because, aside from being a kind of little anti-Christ, he was a profound and true,accurate critic of the perverse and dishonest psychology that lay behind so much Christian thinking and talking and acting) idea that Christianity is a religion that hates life, and prefers an imagined perfect future existence to loving this earth and life as they really are now? I’m afraid that this theology, if taken seriously, may open the way to what is most ignoble in Christianity, and in myself.

    • Robert F,

      Richard Beck wrote a series on Bonhoeffer and I think addresses some of you question. ( http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/12/letters-from-cell-92-part-1-new.html )

      …And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [translation: "as if there were no God"]. And this is just what we do recognize–before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.

      (Letter too Eberhard Bethge)

  18. I hesitate to join in since so much has been said.

    First off, I too like being on a list that quotes Wendell Barry. When you go to quoting Gene Logsdon, I’ll stand up and clap.

    When the Bible was written, the New World was undiscovered, yet “global” and “universal” language was frequently used. When they spoke of the “whole world” in the Bible, did the mean the same thing by it that we understand it to mean today?

    For that matter, does it EVER mean the “whole world” in the Bible? Or if it does, does that necessitate the whole world at once?

    Or is the coming Kingdom one that has to come in individual places and ages over and over again? Is the book of Revelation about some far off future time or is it the poetic, prophetic description of a pattern or cycle of events we can expect to see?

    I have no answers, but I do have lots of skepticism. As I said earlier, not a single living person during the first advent had their eschatology straight. This seems to be a clear teaching of scripture that we severely misunderstand what God is telling us. I am by no means convinced I have even close to a rudimentary understanding of eschatology other than the belief that most everyone is probably wrong. Including me. And I’m probably wrong about that too.

    What would our theology look like if we took the “last days” to be the days we are living in right now, no matter what age we are living in , and applied the model of Jesus Christ to our lives. For those like us in America who are not experiencing persecution, we can use our near-millennial conditions to alleviate suffering to as many as possible. To those like the persecuted church in other lands, we can live like a suffering savior who triumphs over evil by letting it appear so evil in itself that even non-Christians cast it away in disgust. That is what Martin Luther King understood and we see his triumph in living Jesus Christ in the arena of race relations.

    What is the place where we each live now? and how are we living Jesus Christ? and how are we bringing in the Kingdom in the here and now? As we say, “Even so Lord Jesus come,” what are we doing to bring him closer?

    Not very coherent, I know, but I’ve not pondered this deep enough, and long enough to have articulated a final word on the subject. Feel free to explore and ponder and wonder. What if it IS the last days? And what if it will BE the last days for the next thousand years?

  19. Isn’t it part of the Triduan “mythology” (in the literary sense) that Christ descended into Hades to preach freedom to the dead. You know, the “harrowing of hell” and all that.

    Let’s take this analogy a bit further then. As he descended, dwelt and escaped — smashing the gates of death forever — perhaps now he dwells with us (in another kind of hell), is preaching to us (by his Spirit?) and on his Return (the completion of his and our resurrection?) he shall free us from the final layer of death which has imprisoned us.

    I am more and more coming to see that God seems to layer meaning upon meaning, The Story re-curves back on itself and into another story which is the same Story. I like the Triduan perspective for that reason.

  20. David Cornwell says:

    “…God seems to layer meaning upon meaning, The Story re-curves back on itself and into another story which is the same Story.”

    I think you are correct.