One of my favorite theological concepts to study is eschatology. Eschatology, or the study of “last things,” centers around what we as Christians believe will happen at the end of time, what happens to our souls and bodies after death, and what the afterlife might look like. While the questions that eschatology asks may seem nothing more than esoteric speculations for the future, I am fully convinced that our beliefs about eschatology deeply impact how we live our lives. As Karl Barth writes in Dogmatics in Outline eschatology is the most practical of theologies:
The Christian hope does not lead us away from this life: it is rather the uncovering of the truth in which God sees our life. It is the conquest of death, but not a flight into the Beyond. The reality of this life is involved. Eschatology, rightly understood, is the most practical thing that can be thought. In the eschaton the light falls from above into our life. We await this light.
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It is the day after Christmas. If you are anything like me this day feels as empty as boxes and tumbleweeds of wrapping paper surrounding a still nicely decorated, but significantly dry conifer. We have waited, longed for, and anticipated Christmas Day–the 25th of December. Anticipated the Advent of Christ, the coming of Emmanuel. But, now on the the 26th, Advent and our waiting has come and gone. It seems that Jesus too has come and gone. Now what?
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Below is an excerpt of a paper that recently I wrote for my Global Christian Heritage I class. The excerpt is actually the portion of the paper that is answering the question: “How is Maximus the Confessor’s chapter on “The Beginning and the Ends of Rational Beings” applicable to the Church?” By “beginnings” Maximus is referring to humanities’ ontological beginnings (i.e. from where does humanity come and for what were they created?). By “ends”, Maximus is referring to humanities’ eschatological ends (i.e. what future hope can humanity have for the end and, again, for what were they created?). If you are interested in reading the chapter after reading this blog, click here.
“After giving the text a thorough read, I realize that Maximus the Confessor’s argument has a very pertinent application for ontological and eschatological theologies in the church today. Speaking plainly, western Protestantism endorses a faith that persuades people to simply be kind to one another, encouraging convenient niceties to each other in order to feel good about themselves. The costly commandment to “love your neighbor” has been replaced with a new one: “be nice to one another when it is expedient for you.” This fickle kind of Christian faith is not just due to a skewed understanding of humanities’ beginnings and ends; it has more to do with the fact that our culture does not care to know and/or acknowledge who we are as a creation and what exactly is the ultimate fulfillment in this life.
We live in a world that expects us to “die and live in the now” repeatedly every single day; forgetting our past and forsaking the future for the sake of the present moment. “The moment” is so sacred, that if you are not facebooking, you are anti-community; if you are not tweeting, you are un-celebratory; if you are not blogging, you are irrelevant; if you are not branded, you are unknown. The world fights fiercely regarding the protection of the modes that provide moments of instantaneous gratification, that there is no interest left in attempting to recover who we are, from where we came, and to where we are ultimately returning. There is no curiosity left for these things because they are seemingly irrelevant and not as pleasing as getting instant reward for one’s momentary efforts.
This outlook is not a pagan view either; it is the cultural view of churchgoing twenty-somethings and younger generations who are natives to the internet. Instilled with a lack of conviction about what the Christian faith really demands of and offers them, a lack of consideration exists among these young people about why should live for anything other than what their culture says they should live for: the moment.
The purchase power of Maximus’ argument is easily understood laid-out as a four-point sermon. First, God has no beginning or end, but all that is (creation) has its beginnings in God (Creator). Second, since humanity had holy beginnings in God, only holy ends in God will fulfill humanity’s desires to be known. Third, by acting in accordance with the will and word of God, humanity becomes an instrument in God’s hand here on earth, correspondingly making them more God-like. Fourth and finally, God became human so that humanity could become God.
I can practically see the congregation mobbing the pulpit screaming “Heresy!” for the assertions that we are made in the image of God and that through Christ those that fully give themselves to the word and will of God, are being made God by God. By Maximus’ argument, it is seen that our ends are our beginnings and that the image that we are created in infinitely determines who we are being made to become at the final consummation with God.
In this way, truthfully, the moment is not done away with; The Church must realize that the world consists of image-bearers with ends as valuable as God, and that every moment has the potential for the Church to be, see, or become-more-like God. The key difference here is that the Church cannot forget those moments just like the fickle culture overlooks those moments. The Church cannot forsake the future hope of Godly-ends for instantaneous gratification. The Church must grip tightly to every moment of communal interaction believing that when it remembers its neighbor both in their needs and in their joys, it embraces the moment humanity was created in God’s image and every moment thereafter that God is making them Godlike.”