Eschatology Without Excuses


(Spectrumbot) #1

This editorial first appeared in Volume 44, Issue 2 (Spring 2016) of Spectrum. It examines issues also raised in Zane Yi's introduction to the Summer Reading Group's exploration of Miroslav Volf's "Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World." Become a member of Adventist Forum to receive Spectrum quarterly (or request a trial copy of the journal here). If you'd like to join the Summer Reading group, you can purchase a copy of "Flourishing" from Amazon or your preferred book seller and watch this website for weekly chapter discussions. -Ed

I believe the gospel of hope is indispensable. So, when skeptics and know-nothings dismiss it as nothing but a painkiller and an excuse, it sickens me—because I realize they’re on to something. A Second Coming church, such as ours, can easily distort hope into an alibi for escape: find a cocoon and wait things out; get on the radio, eat plants, underline the Bible.

Were such a distortion to be truly commonplace, we’d be useless as stumps, or even worse—if we kept on winning converts, we’d be recruiting more people to be the same.

Some of our most influential preachers take us, I’m afraid, in this direction. For them, the present, where we live now, is a parenthesis—a kind of bus stop where, aside from heresy and “soul-winning,” little happens but the waiting. So they barely mention discipleship, nor do they remind anyone to “till and keep” the garden—that, after all, would turn hope into something you do, not just something you talk about.

I got to thinking about all this when my graduating class met in late April for a weekend homecoming at Walla Walla University. Many of my classmates showed up; lots of teachers, nurses and physicians, engineers, all people who make enhancements to the present world. I realized, as I think people often do at such events, how much I appreciate the time they shared with me back when, how much their wondrous, complicated lives inspire me still. Many are active Adventists. Do their accomplishments rebuke know-nothing dismissals of Christian hope?

Another thing: planners had adopted “Beauty in Expression” as the weekend’s theme. I could not remember such a theme at an Adventist General Conference, or in any instance of public evangelism, or in any version of the church’s Fundamental Beliefs. Such a theme seemed right for a college campus, but in more conventional settings it would have been, well, innovative.

All this reminded me that if you look for the convictions of a religious community—for its truly life-changing beliefs— you can’t stop at what preachers or doctrinal statements have to say. You have to look at how people actually live— not just in their worship or at the potluck, but also in the workplace or at the mall or on the iPhone.

In that light, it seems to me that one Adventist conviction, widely shared, is that God does care about what goes on in the present, and whether it’s beautiful or not. “All things bright and beautiful,” says the hymn, “The Lord God made them all.” We even sing that “Emmanuel’s ground” yields a “thousand sacred sweets” before we reach the “golden streets.”

Not all of us, and perhaps none of us all the time, think the here-and-now is something you just wait out or try to run from. Someone who hears a tornado bearing down on the house would not polish the silverware but would scream at the kids to head for the basement. All of us, at least now and then, polish the silverware.

Still, are enhancements of life just distractions from our end-time “warning” work?

When I look at the Bible, I think not. On page one, the purple-headed mountains and divine-image-bearing man and woman, and all the rest that the Creator makes, are called “very good.” Then, a page or so on, God really does tell his human creatures that the garden is for them to “till and keep.” It seems, at least in Genesis, that the world is a good a thing to invest in.

I know someone will say, “But Adam and Eve got into trouble, and now Satan’s in control. Now the world is hopeless, bound to get worse and worse.”

But did Abraham get that message? Years after the start of trouble, God tells the founder of Israel: “I will bless you...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham’s influence, so says Genesis 12, will help people on earth to flourish.

It’s true that we’re in trouble. The motivation for cutting the Gospel of hope down to a “final warning message” comes in large part from Jesus’ own words. His great sermon on last things, found in Matthew 24 and 25, declares that before the Kingdom’s final victory, false prophets will arise, and also wars and famines and earthquakes. To avoid torture and death, he tells the disciples, you may have to flee.

Jesus does add, just as we’ve always said, his assurance of final victory. Amid all the hardship and disaster, the Son of Man will flash into view like lightning and gather his followers to himself. Although no one knows the day or hour, it will happen.

But we’re looking at the Bible here, so notice now what Jesus also says: In the meantime, keep awake—and do your job. Even when life is hard, do good work. Jesus elaborates on the point with a parable about three servants entrusted with “talents,” or money, while their master is away. One servant is afraid to invest any money; he just buries it for safekeeping. But such a servant—his master uses harsh words—is “wicked and lazy.”

So the proper way to wait for Jesus’ final victory is to do the work God gives. Even when it’s hard, investing in the here-and-now is God’s plan for our lives. Long before Jesus’ sermon, Jeremiah told put-upon Jews, then captive in Babylon, to get busy building families and working for “peace”—shalom; human well-being—right then and there, in that foreign city (Jeremiah 29:7). Now Jesus, at the center of his end-times speech, summons his followers to be busy in the same way. He has already, remember, inserted the importance of peacemaking into the Beatitudes—and underscored its urgency in the prayer he modeled: “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:9; 6:10).

When Jesus faces questions (Matthew 11) about whether he’s “the one who is to come,” he points to the good things that are happening: the healings, the poor having good news brought to them. So if there are (in the language we use) bad signs of the times, there are also good signs of the times. There is no iron law that all will get worse. Jesus did predict suffering; he did say life would be difficult—but he also spoke eagerly of the good that seemed, with his own ministry, to be gaining traction. The conventional, or stereotypical, Adventist eschatology seems to miss this, even though the Bible is as clear about it as about the Ten Commandments.

My classmates at Walla Walla have done many things to enhance the here-and-now. And part of the reason we enjoyed our time together is that all weekend, musicians and artists gave expression to beauty as if on cue from their very Maker. They seemed to know, by instinct or the study of God’s word or both, that God never said, “My Son’s first coming fell flat and nothing’s changed. I’ll get it right the second time.”

All this has helped me form a thought that’s not new at all. It’s that although the Second Coming really does provide the hope we need, that hope is no excuse for escapism; it’s a stimu- lus to urgency. It tells us what will last—Jesus will—and thus what goals, values and passions are worth embracing today. So when eschatology is faithful to God’s word, it underscores what Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of Now.” It’s motivation to get busy with what matters now, good signs of the times. Hope is something you do.

A world doomed to go downhill, a world where we might as well bury our resources as use them for good ends, would be no place for moral aspiration, nor even for Adventist faith. How, I ask you, can the Second Coming happen if God can make no good difference now?

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7558

(Patrick Travis) #2

Chuck, that’s the reason why some of us in the “political” realm will vote for Trump and choose to attempt to make America Great Again. It’s also painful to sit and see a once prosperous nation in decline “while we wait” for the “eternal Sabbath Rest” to come.
The “fine print” of “SDA eschatology” from what the Bible only paints in very “Broad Strokes”, I suggest, will contain false assumptions and surprises for us all.

Tony and RC seem to have disagreed with my comments. Fine. I would suggest of the candidates Trump is the only one who has actually had a business that has a clue about risk and producing wealth. It is what the candidate says he wants to do for the economy and security vs. what the Clinton’s have done to do the opposite.
I don’t seek a “pipe dream” utopia on earth. I don’t seek a “preacher” for president that may not have the slightest idea about finance. This country has been led astray by it’s politicians, “global religionist” and “think tanks /lobbyist” bent on “globalism.” One can be a “fair” individual nation in the community of nations without trying to seek a “false peace” by finding the lowest common denominator while at the same time primarily enriching international banks, politicians and investment bankers at the expense of the whole. Yes Lord, save us from those “Jesus followers” who don’t have a clue about balanced budgets, fair trade and legal immigration yet choose to force their utopian ideas on the rest of us.
Regards


(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

There is no evidence that Trump did anything but enrich himself or indulge himself.


(Harry Allen) #4

Chuck Scriven is some form of terrestrially-bound lightning. Anything he writes is a must-read.

I’m saying this a mere three paragraphs into his essay, above.

So, now, let me go finish it, and by so doing, prove what I’ve just stated.

HA


(ROBIN VANDERMOLEN) #5

I am deeply troubled by His “great sermon on last things” Matthew 24 and 25!
Before the Kingdom’s victory He predicts wars, FAMINES and earthquakes!

For those of us in the modern era, exposed to decades of photo journalism,
television and documentaries, we can all conjure up SEARING images of
starving Somalian children, or the emaciated bodies of the Holocaust survivors!

That Jesus would require FAMINES to be a PREREQUISITE of His Coming,
sounds positively sadistic to me!

Could His triumphant return not be heralded by something more heroic, ecstatic, high minded?

While some famines are man made due to civil war, besieged cities,
most are caused by “acts of God” : droughts, hailstorms, crop pests, locusts etc.
My Irish ancestors lost one million family in the GREAT HUNGER,
caused by the "potato blight ".
Starving to death has to be one of the more unpleasant terminations!
Have we not in six thousand years had enough famines?
Does a sadistic God need to afflict us with more?

Is mankind’s misery not already overflowing with affliction, anguish and agony?
Does not the STENCH of our misery already gag Gods nostrils?

Adventists have a very troubling and warped eschatology if all we can promise our neighbors,
is a time of trouble such as never was!
God’s payback for Eve’s transgressions?

Eve, a naive, unsophisticated, cloistered woman had two strikes against her:
STRIKE ONE: She was created “lower order than the Angels " the psalmist tells us,
.
STRIKE TWO. Our esteemed church leaders, espousers of the heinous heretical
"Headship” dogma, tell us because Eve came from Adams rib,
she was way inferior to him.
DOUBLE JEOPARDY!
So what does God do? He pits this woman against not only an Angel,
but one which EGW tells us had a “giant intellect”.

As an Adventist I am not a betting man, but surely this unequal, one sided
conflict had an entirely predictable outcome!

And the payment? Billions upon billions of Eve’s descendants have to endure
MISERY, with more to come: a time of trouble such as never was!
God’s “pound of flesh” for Eve’s transgression.


(Ted Robertson) #6

Jesus said the wars, famines, etc., are not the end. That they are merely the beginning of sorrows. And why would they be a prerequisite? A prophecy is only a guarantee that something will come to pass. Is not the groaning of the planet a result of sin and man’s fallen nature? Should we really be placing the consequences of our actions in God’s lap? If it is God’s fault, then what role does Satan play in all this one has to wonder?

In His next breath, Jesus said that the indispensable gospel of hope – as the author calls it – going to all the world heralds the end. Surely enlightenment and salvation to a blighted planet is a fitting and beautiful prerequisite to His Second Coming. It is also one in which we are able to participate.


#7

When will this article be published in The Lounge, the Spectrum blog site for discussions of more than one comment?

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(Peter) #8

Hope comes to me through these valuable thoughts. That is especially helpful to me because, at almost 70 yrs old, I’m burned out on hearing “soon” as most of us define it. The preaching of that kind of “soon” damages the credibility of the Adventist identity that I hold dear. How can I believe that kind of soon when my grandparents believed it earnestly 120 years ago, and my parents for nearly 100 years now. I’m deeply grateful that the Spirit has strengthened my faith in God, and worshipping Him as a Sabbath-keeper regardless of how soon “soon” is!

I remember very few sermons I’ve heard in my life. One that has stayed with me encouraged us to loyally love God no matter how “soon” He returns. Does God really want our love and service only because He is coming soon? I choose to love and trust God even though He may never return in my lifetime!

This Adventist believes the founders of Adventism innocently put too much emphasis on soon. Now, 175 years later, it is time to adjust our understanding and while we loyally love and serve God without regard to what reward we may ever experience personally in the future. My reward is the privilege of trusting my loving God right now!


(Sirje) #11

No, the entire SDA message - and reason for being, is to grow the cocoon. We are the “remnant”, needing to separate from the rest of the world. The “three angels’ message” is to come out, and “be ye separate”. No wonder the die hards are “waiting - eating plants and underlining their Bibles”.

There has to be a fundamental flaw in the Adventist paradigm if we have to be told to care - for humanity and the earth we inhabit - but not surprising. We seem to need things written down before we take action. We have to be told what to do. We have a protocol for every facet of life - so many, in fact, that nobody can really comply with them all. Our view of the world comes straight out of the 19th century, finding a dissonance in the 21st.

Each generation has to find its own relevancies in the words of Jesus. We can’t rely on the 19th century to define our work. Having said that, we can’t deny Jesus’ picture of the final days, “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved”. So, yes, we have a guarantee that things will get pretty bad. What makes the Christian keep" tending the garden" is his God-given love for his fellow man; not a man-made eschatology.


(Steve Mga) #12

We are told to “Occupy till I come”. That means build dwellings. Plant food for harvest. Create a society and a community. Share the God of Heaven, the God of the Bible with our neighbors.
The Psalms seem to promote the “feel” that they weren’t looking for the “end of the world” or a “coming”.
There is a “feel” that there was ALREADY a sense of being joined in earth and heaven. God’s – WITH US – was manifested, God’s literal presence was visually seen and felt in the sun and moon by day, the rain clouds, the stars by night. The beauty of the earth. The noisy rain with its thunder and lightening was just God “noises”. The wind blowing the bark off the trees in the forests. The hills jumping like sheep and goats during earthquake and tremors. All this manifested God With Us.
And when all this occurred both heaven and earthlings could sing together, could SHOUT! together – GLORY!!!
Yes, they did look for the day when their Enemies would Disintegrate. But they still carried on and created a society. As primitive as one looks to us today.

Evil’s greatest manifestation Then AND Now both individually and by nations – Envy and Coveting. This leads to stealing and killing, taking the life of others 1. Stealing the time and effort of another required to produce goods. 2. Destroying life that only God can give. Denying that person the opportunity to produce beauty for God and man.

By the way WHERE are ALL those 2 foot by 4 foot end time charts that were around in the late 50’s and early 60’s???

PS-- The Sabbath [4th Commandment] is NOT the only Commandment. There are 9 others. 3 describing HOW we can love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength [bodily energy and work]. 6 describing HOW we can love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is interesting that with SDAs we DO NOT have an Evangelistic Series on these 2 Themes — HOW to Love God. HOW to love our neighbor.
We love and cherish our Images, Beasts.

One could have a 10 DAY Evangelistic Series by Newspaper and reach thousands. A series on Loving God, Loving Neighbor. Each day discuss one of the 10. Would be much cheaper doing it this way, reach more people than trying to spend Thousands of Dollars inviting people to a small room for a lecture series and have only a couple of baptisms.
But then we couldnt report the results in the UNION Paper with our picture in the write-up.


#13

Your “new” thought seems predicated that “making a difference now” is solely based on Christians effort. .

The world’s Redeemer had many hearers, but few followers. Noah preached one hundred and twenty years to the people before the Flood, and yet there were few who appreciated this precious, probationary time. Save Noah and his family, not one was numbered with the believers and entered into the ark. Of all the inhabitants of the earth, only eight souls received the message; but that message condemned the world. The light was given in order that they might believe; their rejection of the light proved their ruin. Our message to the world will be a savor of life unto life to all who accept it, and of condemnation to all who reject it. {7T 36.1}

Do you wish to criticize Noah for not having more success? How about Christ with the rich young ruler? I doubt you are so we would have to conclude that more weight should be given to the aspect that as evil in the world increases man becomes less and less attracted to Gods end time message just as in Noah’s day. When Christ comes it wont be after mens technique is good enough…it will be when delaying a few hundred or a few thousand more years makes no difference. They wont accept him.


(Charles Scriven) #14

Pat, Yes we must vote for what will build a better world. Christians, of course, should not embody an unthinking patriotism, which I think I see in Trump. But my point here was not to tell anyone WHO to vote for. My point, which you see, is that we should seek human betterment.

Robin, I like your verb “predicts” but not the verb “require.” Prophecies are meant as calls to reform, and as we learn from Jonah’s story, prophecy can go unfulfilled if people change. As for so-called “acts of God,” these are just obstacles to faith, and there’s no argument that removes that obstacle completely. I myself cannot, however, accept the idea that these are God’s “punishment.” The Jesus story calls this idea into question, even if intellectual difficulties do remain.

Sirje, you paint with an awfully broad brush. The “entire” Adventist message is screwed up? I thought my own remarks were a statement of the Adventist message. But we do need to take such criticisms as you make seriously; take them as signals for re-consideration of things.

Ted, as I have suggested already, not all prophecies are “guarantees” that something will happen. Again, consider the Jonah story.

MT Skeels, making a difference based on Christian “effort”? Of course, but let’s remember that the message of grace tells us our efforts DEPEND on God’s help.


(Patrick Travis) #15

Chuck, I am an American Patriot that believes strongly in the “separation of church and state” as held by Madison and Jefferson and the founders. It is not anti-religion or Christianity.
My comments to you were perhaps “transference” to the tone of Peabody and others who have falsely implied that Trump was nothing more than a “fascist.” I resent that on this a “religious” site that was also stated on “Christian Century,” I suggest the reason is that both sites are completely tied up in a very “Liberal” socio-economic agenda that is certainly just as much marginal in it’s own type of violation of “church and state” from the “left” as anything from "the right."
I believe Trump will give the US and world the best opportunity for the Constitutional protection for continuation of the spreading of the “Christian gospel” to acheive what, I believe, was the focus of your article. Congratulations Mr. Trump on your nomination for President by the Republican party.
Regards


(Ted Robertson) #16

Certainly apocalyptic prophecy is not conditional – as was the prophecy of destruction to Ninevah and other prophecies given to the Hebrews.


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