Apocalypse Now: Kingdom of the Absurd
It bears repeating. The church needs to reconsider and reclaim eschatology from the “Left Behind” adventure thugs. The apocalypse is not a crisis, nor is the “end-times” to be considered as an impending world-wide doom. Yes, eschatology is a fancy word for “end-times” but as Christians, it is an end to the world as we know it - an end worth celebrating. The eschaton is the end of an age, the end of an era, and the end of human beings having to accept sin as a legitimized if not normative way of relating to one another.
The apocalypse is not the end. The apocalypse is the nature of our faithfulness to God, as the church recognizes the end of an era and pulls back the curtains to reveal new ways of being faithful. Jesus’ ministry was the end of an era in which Gentiles were excluded from the assembly of God’s chosen ones, and Rome was thought to be firmly in charge of what might be justice and what might not. Jesus’ was God’s acting to inaugurate a kingdom that was founded upon love of neighbor and enemy, servanthood, and faithfulness to a common good that did not favor the ruling or religious elites over others. Jesus is eschatology, and what was revealed in his life was the end of an age, yet a new way of being faithful to God. Gentiles were welcomed to come along for the ride, as the people of God built relationships instead of protecting ancient identities.
It was also revealed was that, while Rome and the Temple authorities seemed to be hell-bent on controlling outcomes, Jesus resisted those outcomes to reveal a new kind of justice. He explored a new way of being in community, and a new way to live without the use of coercive force to achieve justice or drive away enemies.
Rome and the Temple elites killed Jesus for the truth that he claimed. Then came the apocalypse – the revealed truth that Jesus ethic was favored by God because, in vindication of such a sacrificial life he was vindicated by resurrection. This, if nothing else, indicates a new age exists in a baptized life where we no longer fear death because our hope lies in the future, and our truth telling will be vindicated even though we may suffer on behalf of this truth. Jesus died for his faithfulness because it challenged and subverted the authority claimed by emperors and priests, kings and courts. He also died in spite of this fact.
His death should have represented his end, but in fact, the cross represented the end of the claims made by the principalities and the powers of the world concerning who is in charge of truth. While Jesus lost the battle, the resurrection event is the very vindication that gave the early church hope and new identity. Prior to Jesus, we are all identified by the powers that be. We are numbers, employees, felons or thieves. We may be divorced, adulterers, in heavy debt or the wealthiest person in a town of starving people. We are a product of diagnoses, school grades, racism, phobias, and social security payments. In Christ we are no longer bound by our sin or status, race or gender, social status or illness.
Yet, our experience of the Holy Spirit means that we can no longer be identified by our past, only by our future, as we are anew in Christ. Our identity is in our expectation! Our Hope! Thus, Christ is our own eschatological experience – an end to our time of prejudice and racism and anger toward “the other.” Spirit baptism is our end-time, and once we are cognizant of such an end, we can only live life in light of the sanctifying grace that represents nothing less than continuous new beginnings. The end-times are representative of the inauguration of a new era!
Thus, we learn to live in light of the end by living in light of the apocalypse – where we ourselves unveil new ways of responding to those who are still stuck in the sins of homophobia, racism, and unjust economies and courts and war. Our lives as we live them, our ethics born of rebirth and resurrection, are the way that others will recognize that they too can experience an end to their acquiescence to sin.
Does such a life indicate that I am personally void of racism, sexism, and fear of the other? Not necessarily, or perhaps not at all. But it does mean that I choose to allow myself to be freed from my bondage to their institutions and normativity. Yet, apocalyptic also reveals something that is often void in liberal representations of a racism or sexism or violence-free church. The fact that we recognize the eschaton, the fact that God has made known that it is the end of an era of legitimizing such sin, is the end of our era of living comfortable alongside of such sin while at the same time patronizing its victims. In fact, the end-times are an end to our being comfortable with such sin, and accepting the gospel order of suffering servanthood as a means of revealing injustice and refusing to benefit from it. The cross is indicative of no less than the desire of God that we pick up our cross and challenge privilege by refusing its benefits.
The cross means to find ways of living together outside of an economy that we know to be racist in its outcomes, if not its intended outcomes. The cross means we may choose to live in impoverished neighborhoods. The cross means we may take a pay-cut to work the jobs that others won’t, but desperately need to be filled by competent and compassionate persons. The cross means that we reveal what loving relationships are by living them out regardless of the sacrifices we make for refusing to fight, or refusing to exploit sexuality by engaging in fashion choices, or refusing to engage in unjust economies by changing our diets and grocery purchases. Apocalypses reveal truth, but they also reveal the necessity for tribulation.
This is where the end-times bullies get it all wrong. They insist that the apocalypse will bring tribulation for non-believers, but this is the most unbiblical of all assumptions about the way our God has dealt with evil. It is the church that suffers because it is the church that reveals the nature of sin, and offers alternatives to living lives that stay mired in it. We are not called to change the world, but to turn it upside down by telling the truth in face of the lies of the world.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with legislating against racism, homophobia, or other forms of violence. There is nothing wrong with voting for this issue or that person. But let’s get one thing straight – this is not the primary function of the Christian and it should never be our primary witness to the world. Our function is to recognize sin where it has not yet been recognized, and turn the assumptions of the world which support such sin on end. We subvert the claims made by the world that tell us improved race relations means racism has ended, that free markets or government programs are antidotes to catastrophic and generational poverty , or that women and gays in combat are matters of equality. The church indicates an entirely different truth.
Race relations are social constructs that are often viewed in terms of who is getting which resources. The world will always tell us to take care of our own in a cruch. The church tells us to take care of even our enemies. Free markets and social safety-nets are options to achieve specific outcomes – yet shared provisions and obligations at the expense of privilege is the church’s answer to economic injustice. Women and gays in combat is not indicative of equality, as the church believes war is an injustice that no one should engage in while claiming faith in Christ.
The world may indeed try in any number of ways to deal with the realities of hatred and fear, yet it can only do so while mired in the fact that any matter of justice is always weighed on a scale of profit and stability if not outright status as an identified victor. As such, change not only comes slow, but comes justice always comes as a matter of contingency related to who maintains power and control, and whose privilege is vindicated. Discussions of ending racism and privilege are fine, but if we are to believe in the cross, we must at some point accept that our faith asks us to sacrifice on behalf of God’s justice. Privilege is only eliminated when the privileged step down from the heights of advantage – Privilege is simply never eliminated by bringing the marginalized into the privileged class.
From early on, the American Dream has been about bringing all who might aspire to privilege to take their turn and then, when the market dictates and fear of otherness allow, they too will be part of the American privileged class. This has worked for many an immigrant or other persons from marginalized communities, but when all is said and done, those who were once targeted by fear now target others from fear. The American Dream is a market dynamic, but in view of the cross of Christ, it is not the Gospel.