Sunday, July 1, 2012
When it comes to conversations and speculations about the end of the world, I get bored – fast.
So it was that I was less-than-eager to see how David Dark dealt with the topic of “Questioning the Future” in Chapter 10 of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.” I had loved the previous nine chapters of this fine book, but I wasn’t too excited when I saw that the chapter had to do with end time issues. I’m telling you, I get bored fast, and to tell you the truth, I don't hear many people spending much time talking about either the afterlife or end times.
Since that is my experience, it always catches me by surprise when whole hordes of people get all caught up in a fascination or a series of novels about such things, often taking what is in those novels as fact and truth. Those events always make me shake my head in wonder -- both at the (what I think is excessive) interest in end times issues and at the ways some people are so certain about how it's all going to be!
Leave it to Dark to walk me out into the light about how I live now by beaming his attention on the issue of eschatology.
Actually “Questioning the Future” is the subtitle of that chapter. The actual title of Chapter 10 is “Sincerity as Far as the Eye Can See.”
I’ll jump into it, but let me warn you. You need to read the chapter for yourself, and then you need to ponder those questions he puts at the end of the chapter. The whole thing is rich and deep and important.
Back to the title of this chapter. Think about it: Just how far into the future can you see? And is Dark asking for sincerity about that sight, as in honesty, accuracy, confidence, assurance?
If so, just how far into the future can you be sincere, if being sincere means being sure?
Come on. Be honest. Isn’t it the very fact that we don’t know ….for sure….about much more than this very moment that makes us feel queasy? And isn’t it that uncertainty that makes us want to soothe our queasiness with the answers about who is going to be safe and secure and who is going to be left behind?
And isn’t it that pervasive fear about such things that makes people rush to those people among us who offer them assurance and safety and certainty about the end times?
This chapter is all about eschatology, which Dark defines on p. 224 “….quite simply” as “Whatever we have in mind when we think of The End.” He states that “One’s eschatology is whatever one thinks is coming.”
My own personal eschatology was first formed on a hot summer night when I was about five years old at a camp meeting somewhere near Dallas or Greenville, Texas, where my father was a pastor. I remember two things about the evening service on that night I first heard of “the end times.” I remember how sultry hot it was in that outdoor tent, and I remember that the preacher for the night was full of fire and brimstone rage, and that he spared no words letting us all know just how hot hell was going to be for those who had not yet accepted Jesus into their hearts. He spoke as if we might be meeting our fate that very night, and I was terrified.
Somehow, my mother – ordinarily gentle and reserved – had enough. Maybe it was when I began to cry and bury my face in her lap, or maybe her common sense kicked in, but she stood up in the middle of that sermon, took my hand and walked out – resolutely and with great dignity.
(Later, she would say about preachers who had to spit and scream to get their point across that “the thinner the mud, the harder you had to throw it to get it to stick.” )
I remember walking through the dark to our car, clenching my mother’s hand and sobbing.
“Listen, Jeanie,” she said to me, firmly “since I was a little girl, some preacher has been screaming that the world was about to end, and it hasn’t happened yet. This is something you don’t have to worry about.”
Now, from my vantage point, my mother was really old, and if the concerns about the world’s ending went as far back as her childhood, and it hadn’t happened yet, I figured I was safe.
From that time to this, I have not worried about either how the world began (though it is fascinating to think about that) or how it is going to end. I take seriously what Jesus said in Matthew 24:4, as well, when I hear that some new “prophet” has taken it upon him/herself to set a date for The End: “Watch out,” Jesus said, “that no one deceives you.”
My father would sometimes say that various people had tried to pen him down as to whether he was a pre-millennialism or a post-millennialism, and he would say, “I’m a pan-millennialism. I believe it’s all going to pan out in the end.”
He would say that in the context of preaching or teaching on Jesus’ words from Matthew when Jesus cautioned against speculating about the end of the world or the Second Coming of Christ, saying that, ”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
As a young adult, I was captivated by the idea that it is not so much the afterlife about which we are to be most concerned, but this very present moment, the eternal now in which we all live and, hopefully, love. It is only this moment any of us has, for the past is gone and the future…..well, where is the future?
I was also captivated by the idea that salvation comes from the same word as health or wholeness, and that our salvation is about becoming whole – now!
As for both the past and the future, don’t we do best, leaving those in God’s hands?
Admittedly, David Dark overcame my resistance to thinking about eschatology by moving that concern into the present moment. He broadened my thoughts and thinking about the concept of eschatology when he writes on p. 224, “Your eschatology is what you’re waiting for and where you’re headed or think you’re headed. It cuts to the heart of your politics, your religion, your sense of what matters.”
Oh, really? That makes sense, now that I think about it.
Indeed, how you reckon (an old-fashioned word, right?) things are going to end – whether you have brought those thoughts into consciousness or not -- determines how you live in this present moment.
And I would add that if you are fearful about the future, you’re going to be fearful in the present. If you think the end will be all about punishment or reward, you’re going to live with that same system now. If you think there’s not enough love, grace, mercy in the end, you’re apt to be greedy, grasping selfish and stingy now. Most likely, if you have a sense of trust in life and in God and in God’s ability to wrap up history in his mercy and his grace, doesn’t it make sense that you will more likely be trusting, generous, open and gracious now?
It’s worth it, it seems to me, to think about just how you see things at the end of time, back your thoughts up and wonder about whether that end time result that you think about (which you don’t really know for sure because you can’t see that far) really serves you well.
Fascinated by the “left behind” concept, I am curious about the culture of exclusivism and obsession with knowing who’s in, who’s out and who’s left behind.
Dark states on p. 226 that “Our eschatologies drive what we do.”
Think about that, and see what you think about it. Does our view of how it’s all going to end shape and drive how we behave now? how we treat our loved ones? how we help each other? who we exclude and who we include? how we use our resources? how we withhold, hoard, hide and protect what belongs to me and mine?
Dark asks on p. 226 if we “are up for rethinking our sense of the ultimate? Could we do with some revision?”
And then Dark proposes something amazing, still on p. 226. Here is the paragraph I love:
I mean to assert, in word and deed, an eschatology born of faith
in the perpetually redeeming posture – a posture that is never
not redeeming – of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.
What? What does he mean – faith in the perpetually redeeming posture….of God?
Mercy! The idea of a posture that is never not redeeming doesn’t sound a thing like that message or messenger I heard that night when I was five years old.
It is an eschatology of earthbound hospitality and hope grounded
in a determined and practiced faithfulness to a God whose affection
for all of life is without limit, a God whose own faithfulness is primarily
discerned in the lived witness of people having a go at living lovingly
I have to stop at every two or three words of that paragraph and take a breath and utter a prayer of thanksgiving. That is the eschatology I want. That is what I want my children to know and believe and live. That is the grace I seek, the grace I long to give.
I want to live in determined and practiced faithfulness to that God of limitless affection for the whole world, the world he created.
I did grow up in a culture in which there was an over-emphasis on knowing where you would spend eternity if you died tonight and an over-concern with staying out of hell and getting into heaven.
Thanks be to God, however, I was more influenced by the idea that it is how we live our lives now that is important and that the Living Christ is more than what Dark calls a “get-out-of-hell-free-card”, which he calls a “devastatingly low regard for the meaning of Jesus.”
It is my experience and belief, as well, that for most of the people I encounter today, salvation is about how we live now. As I travel around and as I teach and speak about matters of the soul, I hear more questions about what to do now than about the sweet or bitter-by-and-by.
The truth is that eternal life is not just about length of life, and maybe not even primarily about quantity, but about the quality of life.
Jesus himself defined eternal life in John 17:3 when he said, “This, then, is eternal life: that you know me”, a declaration and definition that thrills and challenges my mystical heart and mind.
I love Dark’s repositioning of “that hot-button term evangelical as the “good news” that questions all versions of the future, with an insistence on prioritizing conditions that sustain human life. All those ways of ordering the world that crumble under such interrogations, whether they brand themselves conservative, democratic, religious or civilized aren’t teaching “the good news”. They aren’t in any discernible way “evangelical.” (p. 227-228)
I admit that I shudder a bit when I hear that word evangelical, for so much of what is uttered by those who fly that banner for themselves is not good news, but scary news, bad news, hopeless news. What’s wrong with that picture?
This chapter calls me to remember that I have chosen, as an adult and freely, to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and to pray, in solidarity with persons around this globe that radical petition in what we so easily call “The Lord’s Prayer”: Thy kingdom come….on earth….as it is in heaven,” and when I pray that prayer, I am essentially giving God permission to use me to bring about that kingdom – a kingdom of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace.
There is so much in this chapter that I’m leaving behind – and I’m hoping that by now you have the book and are reading it and being changed by it, as I have been.
I end with a quote from p. 243, a quote I intend to keep in front of me as a light to show me the path I want to walk:
Like the recitation to one another of lyrics and scriptures and special
phrases, the questions we put to ourselves and to each other are a means of
trusting yet again in what we believe we’ve experienced and discerned
of the steadfast love of God. We rehearse these matters in the hope that
we might dwell in the house of God forever. The space of God’s
dwelling isn’t primarily a matter of what happens when we die but a way
of naming the space we’re in – a space where goodness, mercy and hope
spring eternal even now, a space that has to be believed to be seen. We
discern ourselves and others within this space by way of consciousness
raising, a cultivation of joy and wonder that often bursts forth only when
we’re alive enough to one another to ask questions within that
scared space of paying attention.
Read it again. Read it and give thanks that we have among us writers and thinkers and pilgrims such as David Dark who keep on asking the questions that pull us back from our stinking thinking, shriveled theologies, life-sucking doctrines, our delusions and our speculations so that we can live the abundant life now, right now, here and now.
I love the way Dark ends this chapter on p. 243: “Questions make a way where we often fear there is no way in our families, our neighborhoods and in our complicated relationships with people around the world affected by our consumption, our selling, and our voting. There are better ways of being in the world that await us by way of the questions we have yet to ask.”
And then he winds it all up with this: It is by our questions that we are born again and again.
Could someone please write a song about that?
How radical is the idea, in a world of pronouncement and declaration, quick interpretations and projections and cocky certainty, to open up our hearts and minds and conversations and maybe even the world…..with our questions!
What about you?
Have you ever in your whole life considered that you live with a personal eschatology?
What do you really think about how the world is going to end? Is your idea about such things based on what you’ve been taught, what you’ve carefully thought out or some novel you read?
Are you more concerned about the afterlife or the present life? or do you never think about the afterlife at all?
How does your God-concept shape your concept of end times?
Is your image of God an image that creates a sense of peace and serenity for you?
Does your God-concept support your wild and precious life, or does it work against you?
Do you trust in God’s unfailing mercy for now and for the afterlife?
Are you more prone to deliver pronouncements about important things, or ask questions?
Do you rely on a kind of stubborn certainty when you are scared?
Are you worried about being left behind, at the end of the world?
Would you say that you are mostly a hopeful person, or do you tend more toward hopelessness?
Why do you think that is?
Is that a chosen stance in life, or did you inherit it?
In what or in whom do you place your hope? Is that source of your hope big enough to sustain you? (What I’m really asking is this: Is the Source of your hope God, or your own efforts?)
In this chapter on questioning the future, Dark draws heavily and powerfully on both Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the musical genius of U2 and Bono.
Today, pondering this chapter and this blog, I popped Alan Jackson’s new CD into my player and had to smile at the words of “Talk is Cheap”. Somehow, the simplicity of this country singer says what I’ve been thinking all of my life, when it comes to eschatology.
Talk about life, talk about death
Talk about catching’ every breath
Talk about when and talk about why
Talk about do, talk about don’t
Talk about will and talk about won’t
Talk about the sweet by and by.
Well, talk is cheap and time’s a wastin’
Get busy living or at least die tryin’
Wine's for tastin' road's for takin'
Talk is cheap and time's a wastin'
(Hey, Alan Jackson, would that be the new wine of the Jesus way you're singin' about?)
“You’re living now!” my dad always told me when I was in a hurry to grow up.
Get busy living. Live now.
Now is all you have.
Live it. Live it all.
Grace to you—