The biblical narrative begins in a garden and ends in a city. The narrative begins with God creating humanity and giving the mission of filling the earth as eikons of His glory and authority. The story ends with people of all nations united in God and filling the New Jerusalem as eikons of His glory and authority. The biblical story is the story of God creating the “heavens and the earth” and then developing it toward a preordained end.
Humanity was created by God to be co-creators with God as God brings creation to its fullness but humanity rebelled and built “the city,” the highest expression of human spirituality, commerce and government, as an alternative reality in opposition to God. The biblical narrative shows that God in self-sacrificing love enters into the “the city,” fills it with His presence, and ultimately makes the city of humanity His home.
As the biblical narrative unfolds we see that what God is doing is bringing all creation to full shalom where there will absence of war, harmonious relationships, personal well-being for people and animals, prosperity for everyone, justice and peace of mind. In a way unfathomable to us, God will make all creation new, raise the dead to life, and unite all those who are in Him into one eternal community with whom he dwells. This is the promise of the eschaton.
We live in the time between Pentecost and the eschaton. A resurrection has occurred in Christ that foreshadows a world to come. We have the life and work of Christ, as well as the entire body of scripture, that gives us a window into the mind and heart of God who is going to make all things new. The future has broken into the present to point us toward God’s consummation of creation. What is to be our response to this in-breaking of God into our age ? As Hans Shwarz observes there are three possible responses for those who accept the revelation of God. (1)
First, there is despairing resignation. We simply accept that someday God will do what He said as we sit helplessly by and wait for the end to come. At best we “save” others from this world so they can be a part of the new thing that God will do but there is precious little for us to do other than keep our house in order so we will be sure to make it into the New Jerusalem.
Second, there is futurist activism. We decide to help God out by ushering in the new creation for God. We envision what a perfect world will look like and muster all of our energy and resources into transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. This leads to utopian illusions where human sin is minimized and the need for God’s transformation of creation is ignored.
Third, there is proleptic anticipation. "Prolepsis" is not a word we see everyday. According to Webster's dictionary, it simply means “the representation of something in the future as if it already existed or occurred.” We live as best we can the vision of the New Jerusalem here and know with the full awareness that we are not in the New Jerusalem. By living proleptically, we give a glimpse to others of a life that is to come and we invite them to join with us in being apart of that future both today and for eternity.
Despairing resignation is a rejection of God’s mission for his eikons in the era between Pentecost and parousia (Christ’s return.) It is shows a profound lack of faithfulness to God’s transformative works in the world. Futurist activism is hubris that rejects Jesus warning that the wheat and tares grow up together and only at the harvest will the two be separated. It is an expression of human arrogance attempting to usurp the transformative powers and timetables of God. The call of God is to be proleptic.
What implications does our knowledge of the eschaton have for the discussion of theology and economics in light of what we have already observed about creation and fall?
- The present mission and institution of the church is a temporary while the call to creation stewardship is intrinsic to what it means to be human from the beginning of the biblical narrative to the end.
- Christians live as dual citizens. We are citizens of the world in this present age but we are ultimately citizens of the New Jerusalem living proleptically in this age.
- The calls of creation stewardship, kingdom service and use of spiritual gifts are all equally present and incumbent upon on us in this age.
- Utopia, the full restoration of shalom, will come but it only will come at the time and in the way of God’s own choosing. No one knows the time and manner in which it happens.
- Despairing resignation is unfaithfulness to God and a denial of God’s transformative works in this age.
- Futurist activism is unfaithfulness to God and an attempt to usurp God’s transformative role in the world.
- Because of the promise of the eschaton from we are free from the temporal order and we are free to the temporal order. Precisely because our ultimate identity and meaning is not found in this age we are free from the seductive but unattainable vision of personal or social utopias. Furthermore, because we have nothing of ultimate value to lose in this age we are free to live in relation to the present world order in a way that honors God, even to the point of surrendering our very lives. (2)
(1) Hans Schwarz, Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2000. 405-407.
(2) Mark Lowery, The 'Eschatological Principle' in Catholic Social Thought, Journal of Markets and Morality, vol. 8, no. 2 (Fall 2005) 435-453. 440-441.