Ted Grimsrud—Peace Essays #B.10
[Published in Ted Grimsrud and Michael Hardin, eds. Compassionate Eschatology: The Future as Friend (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 3-27.]
Eschatology all too often means judgment, vengeance, the bad guys and gals getting their “just desserts.” Probably at least in part because of the titillating allure of violence, and in part because of the attraction of being part of a story when our side wins and the other side loses, eschatology is pretty popular.
But is this kind of eschatology Christian? What might Christian eschatology look like if it is done as if Jesus matters? If we look at Jesus’ own life and teaching, we won’t find a clearer statement of his hierarchy of values than his concise summary of the law and prophets: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul—and, likewise, you shall love your neighbor as you love your own self. This love of God and neighbor is why we are alive. It is what matters the most. The “end” that matters is our purpose for being here, not any knowledge we might think we have about future events. Our purpose is to love—that purpose is the eschatological theme that is central if we do eschatology as if Jesus matters.
To talk about the “end of the world” biblically points us to our purpose for living in the world. The word “end” can have two different meanings. (1) “End” means the conclusion, the finish, the last part, the final outcome. In this sense, “the end of the world” is something future and has to do with the world ceasing to exist. (2) “End” also, though, means the purpose, what is desired, the intention. “End of the world,” in this sense, is, we could say, what God intends the world to be for. In this sense of “end,” the “end times” have to do with why we live in time.
The book of Revelation is usually seen as the book of the Bible most concerned with “the end times.” The book of Revelation has always vexed interpreters. Rarely has it been seen as an indispensable source for Christian social ethics; often it has been seen more as an ethical problem. I want to suggest, though, that Revelation has potential to speak powerfully to 21st-century Christians about our purpose in life.
The Bible generally speaks in the future tense only in service of exhortation toward present faithfulness. The Bible’s concern is that the people of God live in such a way that we will be at home in the New Jerusalem—not with predictions about when and how the future will arrive.
How do we relate “eschatology” with “apocalyptic”? Let me suggest that biblical apocalyptic (which I will differentiate from the genre “apocalyptic literature” that modern scholars have developed) actually is best understood similarly to eschatology. The biblical use of apocalyptic language, like the broader use of prophetic and eschatological language, serves the exhortation to faithfulness in present life. Continue reading