Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Bible: It's Not About How It All Ends

"Some people think that the Bible has to do with the terrors of the apocalypse, and that the apocalypse is 'the end of the world'. The end, they believe, will see the divine 'final solution' of all the unsolved problems in personal life, in world history, and in the cosmos. Apocalyptic fantasy has always painted God's great final Judgment on the Last Day with flaming passion: the good people will go to heaven, the wicked will go to hell, and the world will be annihilated in a storm of fire. We are all familiar, too, with images of the final struggle between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, Good and Evil in the valley of Armageddon--images which can be employed so usefully in political friend-enemy thinking. These images are apocalyptic, but are they also Christian? No, they are not; for Christian expectation of the future has nothing whatsoever to do with the end, whether it be the end of this life, the end of history, or the end of the world. Christian expectation is about the beginning: the beginning of true life, the beginning of God's kingdom, and the beginning of the new creation of all things into their enduring form. The ancient wisdom of hope says: 'The last things are as the first.' So God's great promise in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, is: 'Behold, I make all things new' (Rev. 21:5). In the light of this ultimate horizon we read the Bible as the book of God's promises and the hopes of men and women--indeed the hopes of everything created; from the remembrances of their futures we find energies for the new beginning." -J├╝rgen Moltmann, from the forward of his book, In The End The Beginning.

'Christian expectation is about the beginning.' I'm not sure about you but that wasn't my experience in the Baptist church I grew up in near Bob Jones University in Simpsonville, South Carolina. From the age of 5, I remember hearing stories about heaven. No more tears. No more pain. No more stealing pencils from Jennifer's utensil box. It would all be over. Done. Finished.

The ending would be the happiest place on earth (if it were on earth, which it isn't--Mrs. Hyde had apparently been there).

I know that the main purpose in telling us kindergartners this was to share the gospel, and inform us of the fact that our souls would go to heaven in the end when we died if we believed in Jesus but, but, but...there could've been a better way of going about this. They could've also told us how every day (from sleeping hours to waking mornings) is a reflection of this reality. And it's not all bad. Endings aren't to be feared, agonized over, casting teams over who's in and who's out. Endings, as in stories, are about people becoming better, people learning something new, something fresh, something to help carry them from this ending to their next beginning.

This is one of my criticisms with mainline (evangelical Protestant) Christianity, today. I don't think we're doing a good job of educating and empowering people to live as 'Christian beginners' (the hopeful perspective); all too often, there's just a whole-heck-of-a-lot-of 'Christan enders' (the fearful perspective). And that's not a good end to be on, if you catch my drift. That's the end of the playing field where people (sometimes) are bullied, harassed, and slaughtered because of difference. Because they're an 'other.' Not just an 'other' in dress or lifestyle, but in belief, in their view on how life's going to end (if they believe there's an ending at all).

It's a travesty so many people boast and bicker over how it's all going to end. I wonder what would happen if instead, these 'Christian enders' lived life, humbly, as 'Christian beginners'. Beginners, like most children, are open to life, open to change, open to new experiences. Their mind is a race, running after knowledge and pleasures and excitement. Each day is a wonder. The future is full, wide, open (similar to how heaven is described as--which is upsetting because we're told we won't get there or experience anything like this until we're dead). Beginners are rarely proud because they don't know enough of something to be so prideful. They're in a perpetual state of learning, forming, growing. Wouldn't it be nice to be known (as Christians) for this? To be seen as someone who lives each day fully, each day faithfully, each day truthfully? To be someone who doesn't waste any new beginning with talk and talk and talk over (how they think) it's all going to end?

I wonder how much better it would have been for my K-5 Sunday School teachers--instead of sharing with us all about 'the end'-- to have shared with us on how to live life (in all its preciousness), beginning with today. To have shared how to get along with those who believe differently from us (and not be told they're going to hell or that we should tell them they're going to hell). I wonder what America--and the world would look like now--if we were taught (from the impressionable age of 5) to love the 'others' we come across each and every day, and to pray for others' happiness and well-being more than we pray for our own.

To put it plainly, what would've happened if we children were raised as 'hopeful beginners' rather than 'fearful enders'? How much different would we be today? Or more important, how much better?

1 comment:

ben wideman said...

Well said, Neville.