Happy Moltmann Monday on this second week of Advent. Our selection comes from The Coming of God. Usually, I tend to stick to nativity/birth themes for Advent and leave the eschatology stuff for another time. This year I find myself thinking a lot about the “end of the world,” so to speak. What does it mean to be Advent people in a time of true global crisis? Here are some thoughts for us to ponder:
Politically speaking, history is always a struggle for power and for domination over other people and over nature. The person who possesses power is concerned that history should continue to run its course toward the goal he has designed for it. He understands future as the prolongation of his own present, so he swears by economic growth and scientific progress, and seeks the increase of the power he already has.
But the people who are dominated and powerless have no interest in the long-term prolongation of this history. On the contrary, they are concerned that it should find a speedy end…Those who are dominated, hope for an alternative future, for liberation from present misery and deliverance from their helplessness…
…For the one group, apocalypse is a word for the catastrophe that brings their world to an end; for the others it is an expression for the disclosure of reality, and the fact that the truth will at last emerge and liberate them…
The belief that things will ‘always go on’ and that no end is in sight- at least not for us- is one of the fairytales of ‘the modern world,’ the fairytale of its endlessness and its lack of an alternative. …Anyone who declares ‘the modern world’ to be his millennium, his ‘golden age’, in which it is only a matter of refining the methods of power, and approximating ever more closely to perfection, is really making the world for other people ‘the beast from the abyss,’ ‘the whore of Babylon,’ the voracious ‘dragon’ of Revelation 13; and that person is actually preparing the modern world’s downfall.
And so I don’t end on that very sobering note, he goes on to say this on the following page:
The eschatological message of the New Testament- ‘the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7)- is geared toward resistance, and against resignation.
So, I know we live in a society where any discussion of eschatology, apocalyptic anything, and the book of Revelation is just crazy. It is; it’s crazy, what people have said about these things in the last 50+ years. And it started in Dallas, where I currently live, and I’m sorry for that. It seems it just gets more and more difficult to talk about this without people jumping to ideas about what I mean by these words. If I may riff Princess Bride, I do not think these words mean what many people think it means. And if I may be so blunt, I sure do not think that’s what the actual New Testament writers thought, or the disciples and apostles, or the entire society in biblical times. They mean something else entirely, which is what Moltmann is trying to recapture. And that is simply this: eschatology in scripture is described as a prophetic call to justice.
It is a leveler, an equalizer, a move toward beloved community that requires us to renounce our beloved hierarchies, be they socio-economic, racial, gender-based, etc. Now that we have made Christianity in the image of the American upper-middle class (of which I belong, mind you, so I say this knowing I’m calling myself to the carpet), all too easily we forget that Mary and Joseph were not exactly power-brokers. They did fine, but they did not hold the political cards. And Mary didn’t identify with those who did, something that’s blatantly obvious from her Magnificat which calls down the mighty like a BOSS. Most of the prophets were the same; even Amos, who was from a wealthy family, renounced his financial privilege by speaking out against them so passionately. And don’t even get me started about Revelation, which is the mother lode of smack-downs for just about everybody. (How it’s become some sort of self-righteous victory drivel is beyond me.)
The thread running through the prophets, the prophecies, through Mary and Elizabeth, through the apostles and disciples, all the way through to the end of the book of Revelation is this: power. Some people have power, and the people in power will do what they can to keep it. And when they do, the people who don’t have power will chafe against the injustice of domination, because we were made to be free people who live together in community. We strain toward that because we were made to strain toward it. It is the only “end” that will suffice.
We cannot hide behind the idea that things will just keep going as they do, as if human history is cyclical like the seasons of nature. While it’s true we tend to repeat history, it is categorically untrue that the stakes remain the same. We are in a time when we have already stressed the planet beyond itself. And there is no sign that we will make any changes big enough or fast enough to slow down the decay. We have settled into a time of ideological extremism, and we are feeling the effects of it every day. We have not only weakened and practically erased the middle class economically; we have also weakened and practically erased any kind of middle way.
Did you notice this one very important point? Moltmann says the people who declare the modern world to be “their time” are to be feared. They are the ones the prophets warn us about. They (and it may be we, if we can swallow that) have seen human history, human progress and human ingenuity as ours to leverage for the biggest possible gain, regardless of its effect on nature, on the global community, on the least of these. Those people, Moltmann says, are actually preparing the modern world’s downfall.
This is a lot to take in at Advent, when we are supposed to be waiting for a Messiah.
So what do we do? The eschatological message of the New Testament is geared toward resistance and against resignation. What does Moltmann mean by that? I think resistance means doing what we can, being who we can, staying centered as we can. It means choosing to be awake as best we can, rather than opting for resignation and slumber.
It means waiting, the kind of waiting that is both active and at peace, resisting without chaos or despair.