Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Personal Eschatology

The two most immediate influences on my reflections today: Psalm 143, brought back to my attention by my cousin Jenny's blogand this interview with Stanley Hauerwas on themes of "the end" (the approaching end of his life, the "end times," and the end, i.e. the goal, of God's creation).  The psalm's lamenting cries for help -- where verses 7 and 10, "Tell me all about your faithful love come morning time because I trust you... Guide me by your good spirit into good land" (CEB), are astonishingly among the most hopeful -- reverberate in my hope-hungry soul.  The interview has some fun and potentially controversial points (e.g, "My reaction to the 'Left Behind' series is one of amusement and pathos...I take it to be a judgment against the church that that kind of speculation has gained a foothold") that we'll leave for another day.  More profound, more deceptively simple, and closer to the spirit of Ps 143 is this statement from later in the interview: "I assume the Lord who draws me to death is the Lord who draws me into life."

Traditionally, when theologians and biblical interpreters talk eschatology (the study of "last things," and by extension, "end time" stuff), they've found it helpful to use "personal eschatology" as a category to discuss what happens (in a given text, such as Daniel or 1 Enoch, for instance) to the individual after death -- as opposed to what happens to the whole created order, whether at the end of time itself or after an epoch-defining moment of divine intervention.  It's easy to wall off such eschatological stuff as having to do with the future (our future as individuals, or the world's future) in such a way that we don't have to think about what effect that future should have on the present.  What Hauerwas is very good at doing, even in such a seemingly simple phrase as this (and what N. T. Wright has been doing, especially in the new Paul and the Faithfulness of God, from another angle), is forcing us to bring our beliefs about the future to bear on our choices in the present: put in theological terms, the question of how eschatology shapes ethics.  (Mission is part of this discussion too, as Hauerwas hints with his reference to God's end/goal for creation.)

The Lord who draws me to death is the Lord who draws me into life.  So much is contained in this statement: Jesus as shepherd/guide on life's journey, even (especially) when approaching death; Jesus as the Lord who has overcome death and will do so again (Acts 2:36, for example, and 1 Cor 15) and thus has the authority to "draw" us into life, in this life and the next -- so that death is only a pause, a comma (thinking here of Donne's "Death, Be Not Proud" and its interpretation in Margaret Edson's play, Witwatch the clip from the film version here).  This life offers no certainty as to when it will end for any of us, so there seems so little that we can know for sure regarding personal eschatology.  But, with Hauerwas, I know this: The Lord who draws me to death is the Lord who draws me into life.  In the meantime, with the psalmist, I will trust him to tell me of -- and to show me -- his faithful love, come morning.

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