This [apocalyptic] thinking has a common shape: i) the world is wicked; ii) God’s wrath is coming to destroy it through doom and apocalypse; iii) the righteous will be redeemed and the wicked will be punished; and then iv) there is a new creation. There are many contemporary examples of this. So for Peak Oil, the perspective would read: i) we are reckless in our consumption of oil; ii) Peak Oil will cause a never-ending recession; iii) those who are unprepared will suffer; iv) those who have prepared will manage. Global Warming is another: i) we are reckless in our production of carbon dioxide; ii) this will cause runaway climate change; iii) there will be tremendous suffering; iv)… There are also some remarkably sub-Christian forms, possibly the most prominent being the ‘Left Behind’ series, which is based on some rather dubious nineteenth century Biblical speculation (the perfect example of ‘doctrines of men’). It is the common shape which is important to grasp, for this is not the Christian vision.
“The commonly held understanding of hell [i.e. this punishment of the wicked] remains trapped within the apocalyptic imagination, that is, it is the result of a violent separation between the good and the evil worked by a vengeful God. It seems to me that if hell is understood thus we have quite simply not understood the Christian faith.” James Alison
The trouble with apocalyptic, what you might call ‘the doomer perspective’, it that it is dualist. It is all about making divisions, and there are three primary splits:
– a split between the righteous and the unrighteous;
– a split between heaven and earth; and
– a split in time between now and the future.
What does Jesus say about the end of the world? He was living in the midst of the time when this language was prevalent. When everyone accepted this apocalyptic framework, that was the common language of his time, but Jesus subverts it. He is doing something different with it, for Jesus’ ministry is centred upon an overcoming of all these dualisms. With respect to the first He comes to sinners, not to the righteous; He spends his time having meals with the prostitutes and the tax-collectors and the religious authorities criticise him for it. He is trying to overcome the division between those who are pure, who keep all the purity laws, and those who get excluded for various reasons, because they have not got the right number of limbs, or they cannot walk. Jesus spends his time with those who are wounded, not with those who are righteous.
The second split, the great division between the realm of heaven and the realm of earth, is symbolised by the curtain in the temple which gets torn in two. The heart of Christian faith is that Jesus is God Incarnate, that the barriers between heaven and earth have been overcome. Jesus’ very existence is a refutation of this second split. The one word rejection of that is incarnation, and you cannot get more fundamental to the Christian belief.
Yet it is the third split which is most important for our purposes here, for what Jesus is doing is bringing “the end of the world” to bear on how people live in the present moment… to be continued