Happy Moltmann Monday! I’m going to be talking a lot about eschatology (doctrine of “last things”) this week, so to kick us off, here’s a section from The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (bold mine):
Every hope is equivocal. It can fill the present with new power, but it can also draw power away from the present. It can lead to resistance–and also to spiritual escape. The countless interpretations of the book of Revelation, and especially the fundamentalist and the new political interpretations of the apocalypse, make this plain. If the call is no longer to resistance against the powers and their idols, but if instead escapades into religious dream worlds are offered in the face of a world destined for downfall– a downfall that is even desired– the meaning of the millenarian hope is turned upside down. This is always the case when it is no longer resistance that is at the center, but ‘the great rapture’ of believers before the annihilation of the world in the fire storm of nuclear bombs. But Revelation was not written for ‘rapturists’ fleeing from the world, who tell the world ‘goodbye’ and want to go to heaven; it was meant for resistance fighters, struggling against the godless powers on this earth, especially the nuclear powers; it was written, that is, out of love for this world of God’s.
First of all, I have to say that I’m kind of proud of the internets this last week for all the anti-Left Behind posts being written by so many people. It made me hopeful that we’re finally moving past what is a really terrible, unbiblical theology that somehow still took root in the US. I firmly believe it’s a short-lived one, and in 50 years (maybe less) nobody will be saying those things anymore. Just like nobody said those things for the first 1900+ years of Christianity. The arc of Christian tradition maintains its orthodoxy even when we have these little historical swings that fly outside of its bounds. For that I’m grateful.
Moltmann summarizes pretty succinctly here why the whole rapture notion is counter to the narrative of Revelation as well as the narrative plot of Scripture: Revelation is not a book about fleeing the world, or about throwing a good chunk of the world out the window like unwanted garbage, with a weird sense of violent glee and delight. It is a book written to inspire Christians to resist the Empire, which, in the time of its writing was Rome. The “godless powers on this earth” means people and systems who do not display Kingdom ethics- blessing the meek, the poor, the peacemaker, etc. The godless powers are all the powers that enslave people in something less than the whole life God is calling us into, both as individuals and as a society. Revelation was meant to give HOPE not to elicit fear, which is something we modern people continually misunderstand. We don’t have any practice reading apocalyptic literature, so it’s not entirely our fault that we don’t know how to read it “right.” How the escapist rapture camp has read it, however, totally overturns all the hope and intention of the book. God does not desire the downfall of the world– God desires the downfall of the broken systems and powers of evil in the world. Our call to resistance is done to give us a sense of hope that God’s justice will prevail, even when that mighty Roman Empire seems impossible to tackle. We still have a choice to live faithful lives based on Kingdom ethics. We still have hope, because we know that God will bring this story around.
God doesn’t abandon earth. And God doesn’t tell us to abandon earth. Revelation is not about spiritual escape or gleeful rejection of a world spiraling downward. It is about hope, and resistance, and persistence in the face of evil that seems like it might win. It’s about trusting God to do what God says, and in the meantime, doing what God told us. It was written, as Moltmann said, “out of love for this world of God’s.” Written out of love- not fear, or anger, or spite, or vengeance. Written out of love. So that we can be God’s people in the here and now.