Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Necessity of Eschatology

Eschatology is often an ignored subject, and for good reason.  I mean, who could wrap their mouths around this word?  Ess-kat-ah-low-gee.  Cousin to eschatological, which professors of theology and Bible scholarship like to throw around.  Why do they do this?  It seems as if to prove how smart they are.  But the honest truth is, “eschatological” describes a complicated idea in a single word.  The idea of a future as imagined by God. A utopia established by God and the difficulties in establishing that future.                           

Christians have often focused upon the future, because Jesus himself focused upon the future.  But they have misshapen the future of the New Testament into incoherent forms.  It has become a timeline, a string of incomprehensible events.  It is a collection of mythology, of miraculous disasters and religious wet-dreams.  It is a silly pastime full of false conspiracies and invented characters, a misreading of the newspaper.

To truly understand eschatology we have to go to the movies.  Let’s take one movie in particular.  Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.  If you haven’t seen this movie and really want to, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs:

            Meet Dr. Judah Rosenthal.  He is a celebrated surgeon, who has saved the lives of many, and offered help to the poor and needy.  He also has been involved in a long term affair with his mistress, the one dark spot on his shiny, clean life.  In order to prevent her from using their affair as blackmail, he kills her.  Cold-blooded murder.

            Guilt overcomes him.  He tells no one, but all he can do is remember his father’s admonition that God will make sure that justice will prevail, the wicked will be punished.  Dr. Rosenthal knows that he is now the wicked.  He knows that he must be discovered and punished.

            However, he never is caught.  He never is punished.  From this, he recalls his aunt arguing with his father that the wicked are not always punished.  Justice does not always prevail.  In fact, it could be argued that justice almost never prevails.  Therefore, Dr. Rosenthal concludes with his aunt: there is no God.  Since there is no punishment for the wicked, there is no God.

            At first, this seems like a crazy conclusion to a die-hard religious fanatic.  Just because one does not see justice, can it be that God doesn’t exist?  But this is the problem of almost all religions.  Buddha determined that God was in the same situation we were in, trying to find the way to justice.  Judaism sometimes concluded that the people of God were too impure for God to intervene with true justice in the world—that there could be no justice without the just.  Some Christianities determined that justice is on hold until God’s mercy is satisfied.  Spiritism concludes that the spirit world is too complex for justice to be truly meted out.  But all of them fundamentally conclude the same: God is about justice.  And if God doesn’t grant justice, then He is too weak or too evil to truly be called God.

           Justice—whether seen as an equal voice for the vulnerable, or punishment for the wicked—is not seen in this world.  It is far from our experience.  There is no true law that communicates justice.  There is no government that can adequately create justice.  There is no people that will truly live out justice. 

            This is why eschatology exists.  It is the fulfillment of God’s promises of justice.  Not yet, but coming up.  Eschatology openly recognizes that injustice exists.  The innocent suffer, the wicked prosper, evil prevails and good is crushed. 

            The reason Jesus is so focused on eschatology is not just because God must fulfill His promises.  Rather, it is because justice must prevail for the anawim.

            Why will there be a resurrection?  Because those who have suffered terribly in this life for no good reason deserve a second chance at life.  If there are people who have sacrificed themselves for others, then they should get an opportunity to live a good life that they can be satisfied with.

            Why will there be a judgment?  Because the simple law of mercy is so muddled and confused, that there needs to be a clear delineation of what is good and what is evil—what everyone already knew all along.  And that those who followed that inner standard of good should be rewarded and those who denied that inner standard should be punished fairly.

            Why will there be a kingdom?  Because God created the world to be ruled by a just humanity.  It takes almost all of the history of the human race to make that happen, but it must happen.  And it must be given an opportunity to thrive.

            Why will the poor be granted leadership of the world?  Because only they truly understand the plight of the needy and will grant them the necessary justice that they’ve always deserved.

            All eschatology is about justice.  It is not just a random collection of myths.  If God exists, if justice is real, then eschatology must occur.

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