one last chance question
- Professor Allison,
Thanks very much again for honoring us with your time. I have a question
and it may well be my last opportunity to ask it of you directly (as the
seminar closes shortly).
In your opinion, will Jesus return to earth or is this merely a mythological
Thanks very much for tolerating another basic question.
Jim West, ThD
Biblical Studies Resources
- Dear Jim:
Your question is: >>In your opinion, will Jesus return to earth or is this merely a mythological idea?<< I wrote in the last section of the essay on ideology and apocalyptic: >>I have never, at least as an adult, expected Jesus to come on the clouds of heaven.<< So that's the answer to your question. But I don't want to leave it at that, because I'm troubled by your use of the word, >>merely<<. You may be assuming that a myth is something that is false. Well, I suppose all myths are literally false. But then again, many of them that are literally false are nonetheless profoundly meaningful and indeed say things that cannot be said, or said as well, in a literal way. Who or what is God? This is an absurdly difficult philosophical problem, even if people speak as though it weren't. Some or many of the biblical writers thought of God as a man on a throne somewhere. Certainly some of the rabbis did (didn't Morton Smith have an article on this in a Festschrfit for somebody?). What do I do with that? Am I an atheist since my conception of God is not that of a man on a throne somewhere? My own view is that God is beyond our thoughts and cannot be captured by the prosaic, so I'm left with symbolic images--one of which is a man on a throne--and stories and silence. The theologians can talk about properties--but what those properties inhere in is not something I've ever gotten my mind around; I'm here at a loss. Is God like a diffused gas? Better to stick with the throne image, I think. So theological myth is not for me >>merely<< anything; it's all I've got. I'd say it's all you've got if you want to continue speaking about a Supreme Being.
As for the second coming, if you don't take it literally, that doesn't mean you don't take it seriously. I personally take very seriously the hope and despair and theological convictions embodied in the picture of Jesus coming on the clouds. The world is indeed so so bad that we cannot fix things. History indeed cannot establish its own meaning because it cannot establish its own telos and because it is, despite all appearances, parasitic upon what lies outside or beneath or behind it. And God will indeed have the last word. And yet--since no one has ever been to the end of the world, no one knows what happens there. Will it be the big crunch (sounds painful), or will it be the eternal dissipation (Time says this is the latest scientific consensus; how dreadful), or will it be something else entirely (maybe the scientists will come up with a more pleasant option for us). But theologically I would want to say that whatever the scientific description, God must win. I don't know concretely what that will look like--although I'm one of the old-fashioned ones who, like John Hick, can't imagine it without some sort of human future which includes the entirety of the race (here I commend, if I may, Hick's chapters on >>Naturalism as Bad News for the Many<< and >>Death and Beyond<< in The Fifth Dimension, Oxford; Hick's God isn't sufficiently Christian for me, but these two chapters are on target). Once again it's like Genesis. Maybe we started with the big bang. Don't know. But I wish to make my theological affirmation whatever narrative the scientists are have composed this week or will compose the next: God created the world, and it is good. In like fashion, because the world is good, God will not abandon it. What this confession requires historically or scientifically I don't know--so I'm stuck with myth, right? So was Jesus. So were the NT writers. And so is everybody else, whether they know it or not.
I suppose that my own conviction is that eschatology has two points of realization, one in the arena of eternity, the other within the limits of the finite. From the perspective of faith, only the victory within the sphere of the eternal is assured. As for history, the millennium, utopia, is its goal, the ideal towards which we strive. But there is nothing necessary about its achievement. So although I am comforted by God's ultimate triumph beyond this world and hopeful of participation in that triumph, I'm left burdened by all the imperatives that would, if we heeded them, bring the ideal closer even in this dark here and now.