December 14, 2017

Setting the World Right

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Eschatology Week
Part 4: Setting the World Right

Previous Posts
Part 1: The Christian Hope = Resurrection
Part 2: Eschatology starts in our past
Part 3: Jesus’ Future Presence

I believe . . . He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

• The Apostles’ Creed

• • •

When we think of “judgment” our thoughts turn to the courtroom, where the judge pronounces verdicts of “guilty” or “innocent,” dispensing sentences or setting prisoners free accordingly. It is a sober, sometimes fearsome picture we see in our minds.

I remember going to court as a pastor and character witness for a young man who had gone astray and been persuaded to commit a heinous act of murder. The sound of the gavel and the judge’s verdict is something I will never forget. The defendant was pronounced guilty and sentenced to eighty years in prison without parole. His life as he knew it was over and the finality of the judgment left us all speechless.

I think most of us have some similar image in mind when we say the Creed and confess our belief that Jesus will “judge the living and the dead” when he returns. And we tremble.

However, in Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright reminds us that the Bible’s concept of judgment carries with it, in the first place, a much different emphasis.

The picture of Jesus as the coming judge is the central feature of another absolutely vital and nonnegotiable Christian belief: that there will indeed be a judgment in which the creator God will set the world right once and for all. The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and postliberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. (p. 137)

This, then, is the first picture we ought to have in mind when we hear of God’s coming judgment: The world will be set right.

There is no better expression of this hope than in Mary’s Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

• Luke 1:46-55

The main thing to notice, as Wright points out, is that future judgment is good news not bad. It speaks of a sweeping transformation that answers the laments of all ages.

“Where are you, Lord?” will be answered by Jesus’ presence (as we discussed yesterday).

“How long, O Lord?” will be answered by a resounding “Now!” 

God “has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead,” says Paul (Acts 17:31)

Imagine a world with no corrupt politicians. Imagine a world where no one exercises violence against others, either on an individual or national scale. Imagine a world with no child abuse or domestic violence scandals, no sex trafficking, no lying or cheating spouses, no class warfare and no one living any longer “on the margins.” The hungry fed, the sick healed, people mistreated because of their race, sex, ethnicity, or appearance no longer living in fear. What no politician, social engineer, or utopian dreamer will ever be able to do will be accomplished.

According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

The Psalms celebrate this prospect, and so ought we.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

• Psalm 96:10-13

Before we get all hyped up and ready to argue about hell and purgatory and eternal conscious punishment and a host of other things that we associate negatively with the concept of God’s judgment, let’s step back and see the big picture. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about that “casting down” side of the equation. But for today, let’s focus on the big picture: the ultimate “balancing act” that judgment is all about — setting the world right.

In this light, as N.T. Wright affirms: “A good God must be a God of judgment.”

Comments

  1. Eckhart Trolle says:

    Now imagine a world ruled by a judge with absolute power, and who makes the (often very arbitrary) law himself. Satan would be a hero in that world.

    • Hi ECKHART TROLLE,
      I think you’ve got it confused . . . the justice of God sets people FREE, it doesn’t bind them to the greedy tyranny of those in control in our world . . . Chaplain Mike is right about Mary’s Magnificat, on which the hymn ‘The Canticle of the Turning’ is based . . . why not celebrate ‘the turning’ as it is happening, and give thanks when we see it for what it is: a sacred process changing an injured world for the better ?

      “. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
      not a stone will be left on stone.
      Let the king beware for Your justice tears
      ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
      The hungry poor shall weep no more,
      for the food they can never earn;
      There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed,
      for the world is about to turn. . . “

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        Yours is a very…monarchical conception of paradise.

        • Hi ECKHART TROLLE,

          ‘paradise’ or ‘parodox’ 🙂

          If you are speaking of the Kingdom of Our Lord, it has some strange features: the last shall be first, the servants shall be the greatest, and to the humble is given the gift of grace . . .
          a strange ‘kingdom’, yes . . . it defies what we humans ‘value’ as important, and celebrates the lowly among us, so I should wonder what kind of ‘monarch’ rules such a ‘kingdom’, if I were you . . .

          and when you have figured it out, come back and explain the mysteries of the paradox to us . . . but know that we have been told that we see as through a glass darkly and identifying the king of such a strange kingdom may be difficult for us at best . . .

          ““He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside,
          He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word:
          ‘Follow thou Me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our
          time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or
          simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which
          they shall pass through in His fellowship and, as an ineffable mystery, they
          shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” (Albert Schweitzer)

          Monarchical? Resoundingly ‘YES’ Of this great King, it was said by the early Egyptian Christians this:
          “. . . You are the life of us all, the salvation of us all, the hope of us all, the healing of us all, and the resurrection of us all.”

          Among the Celts, He is called ‘the high King of Heaven’

          Monarchical? You bet.

          • But a kingdom in which nothing works by our concepts – a place in which the last are first, the “least” are honored, and those who are “lost” have been found and given the equivalent of the wine at Cana (the very best).

            The late Robert Farrar Capon’s books on the parables – including the parables of judgment – focus on two key concepts: what he calls “left-handed power” (which is the complete opposite of feudalism, or any totalitarian system), epitomized in Christ himself. And what he regers to as “lastness, leastness and lostness.” One of my favorite images from these books has to do with the unexpected, undeserved Rolls Royce (of salvation).

    • Imagine a world ruled by a judge with absolute power, who puts that power in his pocket to show his love for the world. That is Jesus, and he should be a hero in that world, but many don’t recognize what he’s done for them.

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        But according to the iconography, for the Last Judgement he becomes all-powerful and vengeful again. The rules of his game are inherently murky, and I see no reason to praise them (unless simply to curry favor, for fear of being grouped with the goats).

        • You know, as I was jogging I was formulating replies to this – the universality of the Hunan desire for justice, however conceived, the flaws of evolutionary ethics, etc. But you keep asking US question after question, and you have yet to answer this most basic one – why are you HERE? I mean, if you are simply looking for a fight, there are any number of venues where you could get one. If you want to show up the problems in Christian life and theology – dude, among *us* you are sooooo late to the party. If you want to get folks angry – well, we make it a point of pride here to be polite even when we disagree.

          So, before I reply to any more of your posts, *you* answer *me* a question.

          Why are you here?

        • “he becomes all powerful and vengeful again”

          I think it fair to admit that this is quite often accurate. This vengeful persona becomes the dark shadowy necessity of “setting the world right.”

          And that, to me, is a problem. No sense in ignoring it.

          But. How would you define “power” in this context E.T.? Is this judgment tied to love (or has some relationship to some kind of character attribute), or is it the pure arbitrary exercise of will?

          I’m glad the courtroom metaphor came up. It creates a lot of problems.

          • I like the courtroom metaphor, too. And here’s how it creates a lot of problems: Jesus, the most innocent man of all-time, was accused, arrested, convicted and executed despite his innocence. And what was Jesus’ mind-set through it all?

            “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) In other words, he kept his power in his pocket.

            “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?…But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” (Matthew 26:54, 56) In other words, he needed to die and be raised to save us.

            Jesus himself faced injustice and didn’t use his power to stop it. Why? Because he loves us. I don’t see how “final judgment” is going to be anything but Good. He loves us too much.

          • Rick,

            The courtroom drama can be helpful in some ways but I should have been more clear. I actually don’t like the courtroom metaphor. I think there’s a ton of problems with it. But I think it’s the sort of go-to metaphor in a system that primarily thinks of salvation and eschatology in a forensic sense (and most do, even if IM generally doesn’t). And for that reason I was happy to see it noted.

            I’ve been exposed to a sort of courtroom type of narrative as a “gospel presentation”, and I still see it in songs and in atonement theology and it paints a really weird picture.

            God is the judge.
            A movie of my life plays in front of all in the courtroom. Everything I’ve done. God – who is Love which supposedly keeps no record of wrongs – actually has a meticulous record of all of it.
            I feel ashamed.
            God, as enforcer of the law and bound by it, is ready to pronounce the guilty verdict. Eternal pain will never actually “balance” anything, nevertheless that is the penalty.
            But at the last moment in walks Jesus. “This one believed in me. So I’ve taken the penalty. Paid the price!”
            I’m off the hook!
            Next up! Maybe not so lucky…..

            I think it either minimizes or completely eliminates the restorative side of justice/judgment. A legal acquittal is not the same thing as “setting the world right”.
            And I end up getting confused on the relationship within the Godhead.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I think it either minimizes or completely eliminates the restorative side of justice/judgment. A legal acquittal is not the same thing as “setting the world right”.

            It’s like the difference between “Under the Blood” (where God just paints over our sins and imperfections to hide them enough to escape Hell) and actually becoming Perfected.

          • Mike H.,

            Oh, trust me, I hear what you’re saying. In case you missed it, my reason for “liking” the court room metaphor is because of how Jesus turned it on its head. It’s not cut-and-dried. The most innocent man ever, allowing himself to be rail-roaded for our benefit. It just doesn’t make sense.

            I’m not sure how God’s “justice system” works. All I know is that without His ultimate grace, love, mercy and forgiveness, we’d all be in deep doo-doo. So it seems to me his “court” is a lot different than we think.

        • Uhhm….murky? It doesn’t appear all that murky to me. Jesus’ standards seem to be pretty clear, and his notion of righteousness pretty consistent.

          In the case of the Last Judgment, when vengeance is dished out, I don’t see how that could be seen as arbitrary lawmaking. It seems pretty simple, and easy to discover. You don’t really need the Christian faith to line it up, it’s sort of inherent in human expectation/hope everywhere: the righteous ought to be vindicated, the wicked punished, and their victims resorted. Christianity just says that it’s actually going to happen in a historical, final way, through one particular person.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            A lot of the people getting sent to hell simply chose the wrong religious beliefs. Also, the damned include categories of people like fornicators and drunkards (if Paul is to be believed).

          • The Biblical picture really doesn’t include a lot of people going to hell for having the wrong religious beliefs. I know that’s popular mythology and all, but I contend that it’s just not there.

            As the fornicators and drunkards, I don’t think you can have an easygoing assumption to know what Paul means in those lists. First of all, “inheriting the Kingdom” or not inheriting, doesn’t particularly mean heaven or hell when you die. I think that’s part of the point of this week’s posts. Second, if it does mean that, or to the extent that it does, no one is only a fornicator or a drunkard. He giving a quick sketch and listing the behaviors and character traits that God is not tolerating. Paul considers sin a complex of things, commitments, priorities, habits, motives, etc. He’s not giving some quick reference “hard standard” to know who’s in and who’s out. It’s designed to steer people away from the behaviors, not tell people they are going to hell if they do them.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Accepting or rejecting Christ counts as a kind of religious belief, no…?

          • That’s exactly what I don’t believe is the clear standard for salvation in Scripture. Longish comment coming…

            If you’re talking about passages like John 3:18, that’s still not convincing to me. People want to universalize popular passages into cute, tidy principles to be extracted as proof texts and wielded as they please on the person at hand in their experience. It can’t be done. These words were spoken at a certain time, to a certain person, for a certain purpose. The hearer in question was close to God. He had earnest questions about what was to come for the restored Israel, and how he could be included. He was the guy who saw Jesus face to face, and knew God was doing something through him because the signs were clear. Not everyone is in this position. When the Messiah bomb drops (in this context, it’s the phrase “Son of Man”) it is followed by warnings, because Messiahs cause trouble, and those close to them are usually presented with some pretty stark choices pretty quickly. There’s no quick way to know exactly what “condemned” means in a passage like this, but it’s most likely referring to something very imminent, real world, and historical, and Roman. Or maybe intra-Jewish conflict. But whatever the case, responsible Bible readers are not looking for ways to extract a personal salvation/damnation-when-you-die meanings from every single word. It’s just not what Jesus talked about, almost ever, if ever.

            The kind of exegesis required to get through much of the New Testament accurately is simply not the kind 99% of people are equipped to do, because we expect instant results and easy meanings from a translation from ancient Hebrew and Greek of events in a radically different culture. Our popular tools for mounting this lifelong task is often a verse-a-day calendar or a bracelet with John 3:16 on it. This is not Bible-awarenes of any kind. There’s so much baggage associated with most of our readings I would almost recommend non-initiates NOT read the Bible until they have some seriously trustworthy apparatus in place to prevent the wholesale stupidities that most Western Christians are committing most of the time with their own sacred text. And I don’t have to be right John 3:18 to back that up.

            A summary of my view on it is: There’s no easy Bible proof-text to show everyone who “believes in Jesus” will be vindicated. And there’s no way to insist that people who behave in ways consistent with God’s design, but do not profess Christian faith, are automatically condemned. It’s going to be a surprising mix., and the only possible posture is humility and the recognition that even the wisest are going to have a very hard time trying to judge things like the fullness of someone’s faith and practice. So it’s better to hope for and encourage faith, but to at least commend good practice wherever it occurs in those without faith, and assume that we just don’t really know who’s “saved” and who isn’t based on a quick inventory of what someone is professing.

        • Depends on who’s iconography. Not the Bible’s, but maybe Hal Lindsey’s. Do you accept his literal interpretation as THE literal interpretation of the Bible? Let’s start there and work back.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Any interpretation that has Jesus return to life and rule the world is going to raise problems. Are you willing to admit that maybe / probably there will be no literal Second Coming?

          • ET, you’re cracking me up here. You have to believe in a literal FIRST coming to even think there might be a literal SECOND coming, so what do you care?

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            I do acknowledge that Jesus probably existed, if that’s what you mean. You’re right that it’s a bit bizarre to complain about the tyrannical aspects of the Second Advent, when I don’t believe he’ll be coming back. Think of it as a literary discussion, kind like the people who argue about Superman’s behavior in his most recent movie.

          • Eckhart, absolutely, lol. It’s an honest consideration. Doesn’t change much for me.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Depends on who’s iconography. Not the Bible’s, but maybe Hal Lindsey’s. Do you accept his literal interpretation as THE literal interpretation of the Bible?

            You mean “The Plain Meaning of SCRIPTURE” as in Revelation’s plague of Demon Locusts actually meaning helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapons and piloted by long-haired bearded hippies? Revelation being God showing John a movie of the 1970s (1980s max) and having John write what he saw as best he could? Gog & Magog being the USSR and East Germany? All history written 1970 years before It Happened?

    • Looking at the quality of the judgement though it is far different than what we would expect of a monarch, the ones who preached and did miracles in Jesus’ name are cast out because he never really knew them and the ones who showed kindness to the least are admitted in (surprising these people who seemed to have no idea they would make it). When God judges it will be good..as in a good that resonates with us all.

    • Wouldn’t disagree with you. There’s something admirable a light bringer who brings us fire from the gods and allows us to think for ourselves. “Satan” often is the hero in a lot of stories, especially in contrast to the impersonal OT God found everywhere but very early Genesis.

      Of course, need to define what type or which Satan we are talking about, too.

      I like the one Neil Gaiman writes.

  2. ” . . . Wipe away all tears, for the Dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn . . ”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9QeTmRCpW4
    (The Canticle of The Turning )

  3. The thought that anyone might be “sent away empty”, rich or otherwise, does not seem like good news to me.

    • Complete good news to me, my prayer and hope, is that everyone ultimately shall be “filled”, and none “sent away empty”. The Magnificat is a beautiful canticle in many ways, expressing the hope of those who have been downtrodden that their liberator will one day upset the order that is stacked against them, but it does not express my ultimate hope to the degree that it includes a celebration of the exclusion of anyone. I see it as a penultimate hope, not the final one of universal reconciliation; that ultimate hope is the only one that I now find sustaining.

      • Me too, Robert.

      • In order for reconciliation, both persons must agree to reconcile. God has alone has made reconciliation possible. But He cannot force us to accept the gift. If we don’t accept the gift “now”, why would it be different “later” (after death)?

        • “Free will” is a mystery, I think, and far more complex than just choosing between options. Obvious statement, I know. I don’t think that, metaphysically speaking, we can choose to “accept” or “not accept” God the same way that we can with say, choosing what you want for dinner. God is the beginning and end of all things. The question for me isn’t necessarily about making a “choice” to “accept” something, it’s more about if that choice is irrevocable or not.

          Just thinking out loud. How is it that anyone can claim that God has the ability to make “all things right” if God created human “free will” as an eternal obstacle which he is obligated to bow to? I’m not saying free will isn’t real or that we’re all puppets – far from it – I’m just saying that I don’t see how this end is possible if “free will” is something that God is helpless against. If this “all in all” end is a matter of each individual’s full surrender and consent to God bringing about such an end, I think we have a problem. Part of what needs to be made right is me.

          • We talk about the injustice of “the world”, but Jesus is a God of particulars. I think everything that needs to be right is me. It’s not out there, over there, it’s within each of us, this injustice. I simply see it as a choice. We are all aware of our sin, every one. Whether we want to be washed clean or not IS our choice. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness….

          • Joel,

            I don’t disagree. This isn’t about an abstract “out there”.

            All I’m saying is that any hunger to not be “washed clean” is itself a manifestation of something that has gone wrong. I wouldn’t view a child who desired to repeatedly stick their hand in a fire as “free”.

            The question for me is whether God is helpless to accomplish the end that he wants. If so, God’s role is to give us the ability to choose, and in the end we’re on our own to do the rest. It’s an incomplete view of “freedom” IMO. Do I really want to be “washed clean”? Am I sure? Am I sure that I’m sure?

            I simply question whether an individual’s own burning and unswerving desire to be “made clean” (or the lack thereof) is really given the final irrevocable word in all of this. I don’t really know how it works.

            By the way, I am most definitely NOT a Calvinist.

          • I see your point. I think in our hope that ALL will spend eternity with Jesus we sometimes discount the possibility that maybe some would actually rather not. This is hard to imagine.

    • It also seems to me that this looking forward to ones day in court with a righteous judge adjudicating seems to put too much trust in ones own innocence. Isn’t one of the deeper currents in the gospels about avoiding court altogether, because by pursuing charges against another one opens oneself up to judgment as well? “Look”, the judge says, “you’ve been in my court before, and I forgave you your trespasses. Now you are pursuing your suit against this other one without mercy, and you want me to side with you against him? You miserable wretch! You will be taken away now, and not released until you have paid your debt in its entirety!”

      • We can always it seems have the hope that all will be saved. The issue of going before God for judgement gives me hope also. I can only rely on Gods grace and love because even I would condemn myself. So the issue It seems to me is ” What kind of God do you have ” MIne is a God of love, grace, and pardon. All I can say before him is Lord have mercy on me a sinner. Hope in his mercy.

        Ekkart, instead of getting mad at you or wondering why you are writing on this blog I have decided to pray everyday for you. May you find the Lords peace and love.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          Maybe it’s just me, but “I’ll pray for you” makes me wince in much the same way as if you’d said “I think about you when I masturbate.”

          • Your analogy, though crass, makes sense. “I’ll pray for you” must come across as offensive when a believer says it to a non-believer.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Oh, I’m not offended–it just feels a little weird. It’s like you’re broadcasting details of what would normally be a private activity. Either way, you’re obviously trying to send some sort of message. The prayer version expresses both care / concern and spiritual superiority.

      • I don’t know Robert, it’s not as if that’s the only courtroom motif we see. There are plenty of instances where someone goes into the courtroom, fictive or otherwise, with confidence fully expecting to be vindicated. I don’t think it’s fully removed the attitude in places where the Psalmist says something like “vindicate me O LORD, according to my righteousness.”

        Of course, everyone who IS vindicated in this way has had to reckon themselves guilty before some standard, and go through a reconciling event of some kind. So it’s not one or the other. It’s like a movement forward through stages. The final one being one in which you can expect to be vindicated. Thus, you can look forward to it.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Into the outer darkness, no less.

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    This is a “hope” that meant much more to be when I was younger; it means nothing to me now.

    First, I honestly cannot even imagine it. Or how such a world would “work”. Economies of power are the skeleton of human society, holding it to its shape. It sounds nice to be rid of them, but I cannot imagine it. The farmer will labor to grow crops and just give them away? Or the crops just grow magically without pests and … then there is no such thing as a farmer. It is tiresome to contemplate.

    Second, so much of this – not all, I am not saying that – borders on being a revenge fantasy. Blame the “corrupt politicians”. There is only a corrupt politician because a myriad other people are complicit in that corruption. And this assumes a problem has someone to blame, but what if it doesn’t? Or how does anyone, even God, disentangle and apportion blame in something as complex as the modern world? Again it is unimaginable in any useful sense.

    And going back to someone to blame… many times that someone is me. With the fading of the fever of youth I see so much more clearly how many of my life’s principle disappointments, failures, and frustrations are primarily about me. It was easier to blame someone else when I was younger. It is my stubbornness, vanity, cowardice, and apathy which has been the prime-mover in too many of these grievances. Yes, I still hold grievance against some others, but I know with perfect certainty there are those who hold grievances against me to which they are legitimately entitled.

    I believe in this “hope”, formally. But it means nothing to me. When judgment comes I will just be waiting for it to be over, make the pronouncements, so we can move on. The very rhetoric of “justice” I find to be exhausting. I would rather be on the front porch, having a beer, and chatting with my neighbor.

    • Once more, in this case we are dealing, of necessity, with metaphorical language. We cannot describe what we have never experienced. We can only speak in terms of opposites: the injustice we know will be thrown down. But what will replace it is indeed beyond our knowledge or imagination. Whatever it will be, we are being promised that we will look at it and say, “Yes. That’s right. That’s the way it should be.”

    • “When judgment comes I will just be waiting for it to be over, make the pronouncements, so we can move on.”

      Well that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? It’s not so much the court’s verdict, but the kind of life we go about afterwards. The judgment part is just the doorway.

  5. Part of me often wonders if there will come a day when God will make all things right, then why wasn’t that done in the first place? Sure, God can work good through the evils that take place in this world, and for some they even ultimately grow in their love and faith in God through all the various trials, but that’s not the case for everyone. And clearly if the state when Jesus returns is B, and the state when God originally created everything is A, then B must be greater than A, otherwise what has been accomplished? (Also, if things were originally “perfect” when God created everything, i.e. before the “fall”, then what’s to prevent the fall from happening again in the future and the whole cycle repeating itself? Seems to be an argument against the idea that things were really in fact “perfect” before the “fall”). We could have avoided all this trouble and heartache if Jesus just originally came and God was fully with His people in state A. Anyways, some interesting food for thought. Perhaps trying to understand this question is above our pay-grade.

    • David, this is food for another post, but I don’t believe the Bible teaches a world that was “originally created perfect.” There are indications in Genesis 1 that it was “good” but not perfect, and that there was redemptive work to be done from the start. I think that was humanity’s first task — not to manage a perfect world (what would that entail anyway?) — but to “subdue” the earth and fill it with God’s blessing. Adam and Eve and all the rest of God’s chosen representatives failed to do that. Only Jesus did the work that began the process of making all things right and new.

      • As you posted above though we are promised we will look at it and say: “Yes. That’s right. That’s the way it should be.” Being able to make that very statement is only possible though because we have to first experience all the ups and down in this life, and that *eventually* at some point in the distant future that will be the case. It also only makes sense because we have our current inferior state to serve as a contrast. So when Jesus makes all things right, and that’s how it “should” be, then why tarry? It somehow must not be the most ideal of scenarios, and be for our own good in the long run somehow.

        • I think you’re right that there probably is no satisfactory response to this topic, nevertheless, this lyric from Andrew Peterson gives me hope:

          And when the world is new again
          And the children of the King
          Are ancient in their youth again
          Maybe it’s a better thing
          A better thing

          To be more than merely innocent
          But to be broken then redeemed by love

      • (FYI I recognize there’s likely no satisfactory response to this topic, but it’s still one that at times I will struggle with nonetheless)

      • “Can a perfect God create something imperfect?” says the voice from my fundy background coming out of an ironically imperfect person believed to have been deliberately created individually in the womb by God’s own hands…

  6. So, I’m a bit less than two years into my first (and God willing only) pastorate of a small American Baptist congregation in a small New England city. I am a walk on player, having been drafted from out of the stands, as it were. All this is to say that I am currently in process for recognition of my call through ordination. This involves preparing an ordination paper. Part of the ordination paper will cover doctrine — and of course as part of that doctrinal paper there will be a consideration of eschatology.

    I have given this a good deal of thought. At this point, I’m pretty sure that the entire statement regarding eschatology in my ordination paper will read something like this:

    “Jesus Christ is coming back, and when he does, he is going to fix everything.”

    I’m serious. That’s all I’m intending to include. No chronological schema or labels relative to points on a timeline. I’m not even all that interested in discussions of the problem of the Parousia. Mostly because I don’t think that these sorts of issues are pastorally helpful. But this statement I believe I can defend and I will stick to it without ornamentation. Depending on the makeup or the ordination council, it could make for a lively conversation. 😉

    • David, I was originally going to make my final post in this series a reflection on the fact that all we really need to say about eschatology is what we have in the Apostles’ Creed (quoted each day this week above the posts).

      I believe that Jesus is risen and ascended. He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
      I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

      Period. All the rest we can talk about.

      • Eckhart Trolle says:

        The creeds are a kind of theological cage, designed to exclude some ancient faction with the wrong kind of wacky beliefs.

    • David Cornwell says:

      David, my reply is below.

  7. David Cornwell says:

    “my ordination paper will read something like this:

    “’Jesus Christ is coming back, and when he does, he is going to fix everything.’

    “Depending on the makeup or the ordination council, it could make for a lively conversation.”

    I like this a lot. However this may force you into a complicated verbal response. Not because of you, but because if you draw a theologically bent committee, they may feel the need to prove THEIR competence.

  8. Not a scientist but I think in nature there is nothing gained and nothing lost but only change of form. Could that be similar to God’s justice. There is always a leveling and releveling of the playing field. The first, last. The last, first. The lowly lifted up. The proud brought down. Jesus made lowest of all, raised to be Lord of all. Every knee shall bow because he suffered for each.

    • I don’t think it’s a coincidence that what forms the very foundation of the field of physics are laws of conservation (energy, momentum, etc). Looking around and observing when a particular quantity is *invariant*, no matter how complex a system may appear, and no matter how many other things may be changing, tells us something about the way in which nature is fundamentally operating. I quite often see parallels between the ways of creation and the Creator (which I’m guessing is how it is meant to be 😉 ).

  9. But how long do we wait until we figure out that maybe our expectations are misplaced? Another thousand years? Two thousand? There are other ways of seeing.

    His disciples said to him: “On what day will the kingdom come?” “It will not come when it is expected. No one will say: ‘See, it is here!’ or: ‘Look, it is there!’ but the Kingdom of the Father is spread over the earth and men do not see it.”

    -Gospel of Thomas saying 113

    • The essence of that is also in Luke’s Gospel, 17:20-21: “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

  10. “A good God must be a God of judgment.”

    This is self-evident to all humans, I think. Our culture is dogmatically against the idea of judgment because of the implications it has been saddled with by the behavior of the Church, and no doubt the behavior of many other courtrooms as well.

    But just ask someone what, if anything, should be done about the 300 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram to be sold into abusive marriages at best, or sex slavery at worst. For most, it’s hard to suppress a desperate cry on behalf of the victimized for very long.

    • The line between between victim and victimizer cuts right through the heart of me though. I’m both.

      • “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
        ? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956

      • That’s true in a sense, and for a time. It is amazing how consistently the Psalms call for the destruction of enemies. In the Bible’s narrative, there has always been a ‘righteous’ people counted out as distinct from the unrighteous.

        I’m not saying this to polarize the world into two easily defined groups, as if we can nonchalantly distinguish black and white at any given moment. But that’s why the final book is called “Revelation.” At SOME point, the curtain is pulled back and the truth behind the masks are all revealed. Apparently there are those who in the climax to the story, resort to repentance in light of their brokenness, and for whom the inner “victimizer” is finally put to death, to their own freedom. That’s not a motif to be taken lightly.

        I’m both sinner and saint. But those roads are diverging more and more.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Problem is, “Apocalypse” has drifted far from its original meaning of “showing what as up-to-now been hidden”. Now it has a mountain of baggage of Rapture and Tribulation and Antichrist and Global Thermonuclear War and Global Warming and feral zombies and…

        • –> ” It is amazing how consistently the Psalms call for the destruction of enemies.”

          I’d re-phrase that as “It is amazing how consistently David calls for the destruction of his enemies in the Psalms.” I’m not sure it’s God – or the Psalms – that calls for their destruction; rather, it’s David crying out for justice for those that are out to get him and are opposed to God.

          Not sure what we do with that nuance, but that’s a nuance I see.

          • aka, those who oppose HIS ‘divine’ will to rule.

            Polemical Psalms.

            Songs of Ascent and Descend via warfare

          • Also, those out to get him and “HIS” god, or how he views god.

            i wonder if david also had a war cry he shouted going into battle.

            alluah ackbar…oh how the angels sang…alluah ackbar…oh how they sang….

          • These days, i can’t help seeing a certain psychological makeup in those psalms, and find them deeply disturbing (an understatement, really). The paranoia and grandiosity, for starters…

          • and the SKYYY was bright…with that nuclear LIGGGHHTTT…twas the birth place…of, the damned…

            sorry, had to finish the bad parody in my head, lol

          • –> “These days, i can’t help seeing a certain psychological makeup in those psalms, and find them deeply disturbing (an understatement, really). The paranoia and grandiosity, for starters…”

            I’m with ya, numo. I read a Psalm to begin each Sunday school class I facilitate and having been through them twice now, I’ve drawn the conclusion that David was, if not a bipolar narcissist, then at least extremely melodramatic (understatement). I’m much more comfortable with the non-David Psalms than the David-authored ones.

            That said, it was clear David held nothing back and was brutally honest with what he felt.

          • Sort of agree. I haven’t checked which ones are David and which aren’t, but sure, that’s the standard- the enemies of God, who are the enemies of God’s people, are the subject of David’s hoped-for destruction.

            And he doesn’t seem particularly worried that he’s one of the enemies of God. Hubris? Maybe to some extent. But I genuinely don’t think Jesus’ people need ONLY think of themselves as the same as the enemies of God. They’re actually not. In their basic DNA. They’re plenty of triumphalism in which Christians cheer on the destruction of this or that person/people, but it wouldn’t be possible if the lament Psalms were sung along with the triumph songs.

            Yes, I self-examine, but I don’t act as if because I don’t want to be condemned (in some way or other) that no one therefore will. I’m just not the same as Boko Haram, however much I could have been. So I don’t really want to shy away from judgment, because I want the victims to be liberated and vindicated.

          • Nate,
            I encourage you to skim the Psalms for the David and non-David ones. I’d guess that 90% of David’s Psalms – even the most worshipful, praiseful ones – all contain a stanza about “slay the wicked, kill my enemies!”

            By contrast, I’d also guess that 90% of the non-David ones contain NO such verbiage.

        • In the Bible’s narrative, there has always been a ‘righteous’ people counted out as distinct from the unrighteous.

          And historically, that’s been ethnic.

          Now, it’s a little more complicated. The righteous are the ones who do good works, basically, not merely members of a club.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The thing is that like “Apocalypse” or “Prophecy”, the word “Judgment” now comes with a whole lot of baggage.

    “Judgment” originally meant something like “making a binding decision”. Nowadays in Christianese it means somebody (or a whole lot of somebodies) gets The Chop. It’s not Judgment if a lot of someones DON’T get it in the neck.

    “BEGONE FROM ME, YE CURSED, INTO EVERLASTING FIRE!!!!! JOIN THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS!!!!!”
    — Jack Chick tracts, stock scene of The Last Judgment with “lightbulb head” God on the Great White Throne

    “When the Queen finds out about this, Percy, one of us is for The Chop. And let’s face it; it’s NOT going to be me.”
    — Blackadder II

    And any preaching on Judgment (like Prophecy) has got to get past all that mountain of baggage.

    • It is tough to even begin to think of judgement in a positive light when there is that horrendous swamp of religiosity to wade through. I also think that nothing positive can really be said if God is the Calvinist God, because it’s all just some weird act using the term justice, but not having any resemblance to anything we would consider just. It would be lovely to think of judgement positively, I’m not anywhere near there yet.

      • Beaker, try Robert Farrar Capon’s books onthe parables (including the parables of judgment). I think they might bring you great relief.

      • Because the God in Capon’s books in most emphatically not the severe god of so many Calvinists (and others, too).

        Makes a whole lot of difference!

      • Judgment should mean justice. Wrongs are set right.

        It really means punishment. You reap what you sow

        It doesn’t mean grace. All the workers get the same wages.

        • “Judgment should mean justice. Wrongs are set right.”

          What about the difference in your mental response to going before a judge as opposed to a justice of the peace. And yet they are doing essentially the same job. The difference is in the baggage that comes along with the idea of a judge and judgement. I have trouble with the Apostle’s Creed “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That’s because of the baggage. If it said he will come again to make things right for the living and the dead I wouldn’t have so much of a problem, tho as to what “come again” means I couldn’t tell you. Time for some updated language.

          “It really means punishment. You reap what you sow”

          Well yes and no. If you sow to the good you should expect to reap good according to the Lord’s Prayer. Baggage at work again. I don’t think this is talking about sending in your paycheck to your favorite televangelist but I could be wrong.

          “It doesn’t mean grace. All the workers get the same wages”

          Actually I think that is about grace. How you respond to it depends on whether you started work at 7:30 or 4:30. If the rain falls on the just and the unjust, I’m guessing you might join me in conceding that’s probably a good thing for you and me. I’m also guessing the point isn’t to figure out how late you can start work and still get a day’s wages.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      It’s a bit like what would happen if Gandhians started ignoring the nonviolence stuff, but instead worked out this whole mythology in which Gandhi comes back to life and smites his enemies.

    • That’s why you start your explanation with stories, not buzzwords and logical sequences. At the end of a conversation, you throw the buzzword in to provoke a redefinition in the hearer: “So that’s what judgment is like.”

      It’s a bit like what Jesus had to do with the concept of “Messiah.”

  12. Stephen sez “But how long do we wait until we figure out that maybe our expectations are misplaced?”

    Speaking for myself my best guess is sixteen years. I drive a car that is older than that. I base this not on any special revelation but on the fact that my father died at 92 and I seem to be following in his footsteps in many ways. Could happen tonight, I dunno.

    So my expectations are that at the end of my particular school of life session, my final exam is an evaluation based on what I have done with this life-long opportunity. This will likely determine where I am placed for further learning and service, and I expect my assignment will be unique as will yours and everyone else. I expect it will be imminently fair and I will be able to see this for myself and agree with it.

    As to what happens down the road from that, this strikes me as irrelevant. My job is to get as far along as I am able in this lifetime given what I have to work with, and that is all that can be expected of me or anyone else. If something earth shaking is in the works like a transformation to a higher dimension, it doesn’t affect my day to day assignment of loving God and neighbor. Just between you and me, I won’t be surprised if a pole shift happens to the planet before I leave the scene, but that still doesn’t change my basic assignment, in fact would intensify it.

    I find all the speculation about the so called Second Coming to be misplaced and a huge distraction. Like the Trinity, you aren’t going to find it in the Bible, just in doctrine about the Bible. If you want to base your life on a Creed, the Apostle’s Creed is the least offensive in my view. The Nicene Creed was hammered out in vitriol and violence in service to empire, and I hope I would go to the lions before blaspheming with the Athanasian. But that’s just me.

    I stand with Karl Barth who after a lifetime of bone-numbing effort to figure this stuff out, ended up with “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”