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RE: [XTalk] Re: apocalyptic Jesus and the problem of evil

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  • Brooks, George X
    Robert Benchley writes: Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why should we ... Benchley raises an interesting point. Of late I have
    Message 1 of 13 , May 2, 2000
      Robert Benchley writes:

      "Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why
      should we
      > take seriously his "Love your enemies" and "Be perfect/compassionate as
      > your
      > heavenly Father is perfect/compassionate" and at the same time think that
      > Jesus imagined God wiping out the enemies of justice? Which would you
      > claim
      > to be closer to the heart of the HJ's life (in both words and deeds)?"
      >
      Benchley raises an interesting point. Of late I have gravitated to an
      "either / or"
      scenario with the HJ's REAL personality. One, his preaching and
      conversations
      could have had the sound and gnostic quality of much of the Gospel of John
      and the
      Gospel of Thomas. Which would mean that he was more of the "Philo" stamp of
      Judaism to me. And the part of his movement that was dominated by former
      Zealots
      and "Iscariot" families, preferred to emphasize his potential for military
      victory over
      Israel's oppressors.

      Or, two, he could have been more in line with the Maccabean traditions, like
      those described in Robert Wise's FINE book _The First Messiah_, where the
      internal needs of a "commune" organization brought the "love one another"
      out loud and clear.... but without any real diminishment of the military
      goals
      of liberating the Chosen People and Zion.

      I would be interested in any input that would help me make up my mind
      about which of the two options makes the most sense.

      George Brooks
      Tampa, FL
    • Mahlon H. Smith
      ... Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q s catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23) can be
      Message 2 of 13 , May 2, 2000
        Sukie Curtis wrote:
        > >
        > > ...I agree that apocalyptic hopes are an utterly understandable
        > response to
        > > intense suffering and persecution, especially for a people who
        > understand
        > > their God to be a just, compassionate God. And yet, almost without
        > > exception (a notable exception being the way some scholars, including
        > > Crossan, portray Jesus as having an eschatological but non-apocalyptic
        > > outlook), those hopes for the 'Kingdom of God' contain the dark shadows
        > of
        > > violence. What's good for "us" results in torment and destruction for
        > > "them." ...

        Bob Schacht replied:


        > I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
        > embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
        > That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
        > everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
        > phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
        > afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). You have
        > seen too much of the writings that emphasize the latter, whereas it can
        > be argued that Jesus' apocalyptic leaned more to the former type. Just as
        > an example, recall that when J the B sent his disciples to Jesus to ask
        > whether he was the messiah, Jesus answered (Matthew 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23)
        > with quotes from Isaiah about the blind receiving their sight, the lame
        > walking, the lepers cleansed, etc.

        Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q's
        catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke
        7:18-23) can be called "apocalyptic" unless that word is emptied of all
        its denoted meaning. An apocalypse is by definition a "revelation" of
        some divine secret that is not immediately apparent, usually in some
        visionary (dream-like) description of future events. While the
        restorative feature of blind/see, lame/walk, dead/raised are ultimately
        traceable to graphic eschatological promises in prophetic books like
        Isaiah, even these sources are not properly described as "apocalyptic"
        but rather "utopian."
        There are apocalyptic statements ascribed to Jesus in the synoptic
        gospels -- e.g., "I saw Satan fall" (Lk 10:18) & "You will see the Son
        of man seated at the right hand of Power, etc." (Mark 14:62) -- but I'm
        afraid J's alleged instruction to JB's disciples to "Go and tell John
        what you (pl.) hear and see" is not one of them. For by definition what
        is publicly visible in the current order cannot be apocalyptic.

        Forgive the pedantry, but let me just quote M. Rist's summary
        description of apocalyptic in the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
        (p. 161):

        "Apocalypticism is hopelessly pessimistic concerning this present age of
        human history, which is evil and corrupt, with no propspect whatever of
        betterment or improvement. Since it is irredeemable, it must be brought
        to a calamitous end by divine intervention. Along with this pessimism
        there went the related conviction that there is nothing the righteous
        can do to make this age a better time in which to live. Everything
        awaits God's expected intervention. Thus mankind is relieved of
        responsibility for the evils of this age."

        Thus, the Apocalypse of John & the little apocalypse of Mark 13 are true
        apocalypses. But most of J's sayings in the gospels are not, since they
        do not share either this fatalistic view of the current age or the
        helplessness of humans in general. This is especially true of the
        stories of J's healings in which human's are told that they are
        responsible for their own cures without any miraculous divine
        intervention (e.g., "Your faith has made you well," "Rise, take up your
        mat & walk"). And such an optimistic, this-worldly view is true of most
        of J's descriptions of the KofG. Again, I quote Rist:

        "The doctrine of the kingdom of God is quite different. According to it
        God has not abdicated this earth to Satan; furthermore, this present
        (and only) age is capable of improvement if men will only learn to do
        God's will. Consequently, the kingdom-of-God concept is optimistic
        insofar as this present age is concerned, and requires that men help to
        improve it. The defeatism of apocalypticism may well account for the
        almost complete absence of ethical and social teachings from the
        apocalypses."

        I think it is this last set of observations that tips the balance
        against those who want to describe HJ (or even JB) as an apocalypticist.
        For either they ignore the demonstrable characteristics of the Xn &
        Jewish apocalypses properly so-called & thus apply the term
        "apocalyptic" to material that has no demonstrable root in apocalyptic
        cosmology OR they are forced to deny the historical authenticity of the
        most distinctive features of the gospels' descriptions of Jesus.

        So, while I agree with Bob that the concept of "restoration" is crucial
        for interpreting HJ, I cannot describe this as "restorative
        apocalyptic." For while HJ describes an idealized KofG, he does not ask
        anyone to wait for God to act to establish it some time in the future.
        Rather, he is confident that the KofG is accessible now & he invites
        others to celebrate it with him - even those secular types whom true
        apocalypticists would regard as creatures of this evil age & therefore
        destined for ultimate destruction.

        Shalom!

        Mahlon
      • Robert M Schacht
        On Tue, 02 May 2000 10:14:28 -0400 Mahlon H. Smith ... all ... Mahlon, Of course you re right. I was basing my thoughts on a realized eschatology according
        Message 3 of 13 , May 2, 2000
          On Tue, 02 May 2000 10:14:28 -0400 "Mahlon H. Smith"
          <mahlonh.smith@...> writes (responding to Bob):
          >
          >
          > Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q's
          > catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke
          > 7:18-23) can be called "apocalyptic" unless that word is emptied of
          all
          > its denoted meaning. ...

          Mahlon,
          Of course you're right. I was basing my thoughts on a "realized
          eschatology"according to which the Kingdom was already breaking into the
          world (in the view of those writers espousing a realized eschatology) by
          the work of Jesus, ushering in the eschaton (or so it seemed to them.)
          You know the usual references.

          In an odd and somewhat limited way, they were right: we recognize that
          Jesus ushered in a new era because we count our years, however
          inaccurately, from his life.

          Bob
        • Ron Price
          ... George, The latter makes the most sense for it helps to explain the historical fact of Jesus crucifixion. Ron Price Weston-on-Trent, Derby, UK e-mail:
          Message 4 of 13 , May 3, 2000
            George Brooks wrote:

            > Of late I have gravitated to an
            >"either / or"
            >scenario with the HJ's REAL personality .......
            >
            > One, his preaching and conversations
            >could have had the sound and gnostic quality of much of the Gospel of John
            >and the Gospel of Thomas .......
            >
            >Or, two, he could have been more in line with the Maccabean traditions ...
            >
            >I would be interested in any input that would help me make up my mind
            >about which of the two options makes the most sense.

            George,
            The latter makes the most sense for it helps to explain the historical
            fact of Jesus' crucifixion.

            Ron Price

            Weston-on-Trent, Derby, UK

            e-mail: ron.price@...

            Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
          • RSBrenchley@aol.com
            There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering after being attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to coping with
            Message 5 of 13 , May 4, 2000
              There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering after being
              attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to coping
              with more than one right now. Please bear with me.

              Robert M. Schacht writes:

              << I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
              embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
              That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
              everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
              phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
              afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). >>

              Do we have any examples of complete or reasonably so apocalypses which go
              for the one at the expense of the other? It's easy to find examples which
              encompass both; contrast for instance the vengefulness of Rev.19:17-20:3,
              etc., etc. with the scene at the end of the book. Surely this combination of
              blessings and curses is a familiar theme adapted from the prophets? I agree
              that parts of it are not comfortable reading, and we can be very selective in
              our readings; the old 2-year British Methodist lectionary consistently took
              passages of prophetic blessing and left out the judgmental bits. I don't
              think this is a very helpful approach though.
              Obviously, there is a lot of fantasy at work in apocalyptic; nobody has
              visited the last judgement, seen the lake of fire, etc., and come back to
              tell the tale! I think there is an underlying theological point, though,
              which is valid. How exactly to you deal with evil, whether we are talking
              about the individual mass murderer, monstrous regimes like the Nazis, rebel
              movements like UNITA and the RUF, or the even bigger evils like third world
              debt or institutional racism which seem to derive from the very way things
              are ordered in this world, without judgement and the destruction of the evil?
              The question is, I think, how far will the judgement go, and only God herself
              can answer that one.
              I can illustrate the point from the current situation in Sierra Leone.
              The Lome peace agreement was the result of a situation where both sides had
              fought each other to a standstill. It granted a blanket amnesty for all
              actions in the war up to that point. It has solved nothing; atrocities are
              still going on, and the rebels appear to be going through the motions of
              disarming with one hand, and preparing for renewed hostilities with the
              other. To live with evil without judging it will never free anyone from its
              influence.
              The UN, quite rightly, say that there can be no amnesty for crimes
              against humanity. I think many of us would probably agree that some crimes
              are just too terrible to be left unpunished. So Foday Sankoh, the rebel
              leader, is now a frightened man who dare not attend talks outside the
              country, because he can be arrested anywhere outside the borders of Sierra
              Leone. There are, essentially, three groups of rebels. there are the people
              directly responsible for the war; they are few - I have heard fifty quoted -
              and their names are well known. Then there are those who have been
              responsible for atrocities. Again, they are relatively few, and their names
              are known. I think most of us would agree that these two groups should pay
              the penalty for their crimes. Then there are the vast majority of rebels,
              many of them children who have been forced to commit atrocities, or used as
              slaves; many of them people who have been forced to join the RUF. I have a
              'direct line' to the victims via my wife's cousin, who is chair of the
              amputees' association; they are generally regarded as innocent victims, and
              when they come in and disarm, that is how they are treated.
              Today, this is pretty much how we would expect God to act; there is a
              sound theological basis to the reconciliation progress. In Jesus' day, you
              slaughtered your enemies when you got the chance, and expected God to act
              likewise. Much of the vision of judgement is culturally mediated, depending
              on how the writer would expect people to act on a defeated foe; this is then
              projected onto God. But I think the underlying point about the necessity of
              judgement remains valid.

              Regards,

              Robert Brenchley

              RSBrenchley@...
            • Robert M Schacht
              ... after being ... coping ... Gladly. I m sorry to hear of your trials, and hope that your recovery is swift and complete. ... which ... apocalyptic. ... put
              Message 6 of 13 , May 4, 2000
                On Thu, 4 May 2000 16:55:31 EDT RSBrenchley@... writes:
                > There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering
                after being
                > attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to
                coping
                > with more than one right now. Please bear with me.

                Gladly. I'm sorry to hear of your trials, and hope that your recovery is
                swift and complete.

                >
                > Robert M. Schacht writes:
                >
                > << I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic,
                which
                > embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative
                apocalyptic.
                > That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will
                put
                > everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow
                a
                > phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
                > afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). >>
                >

                To which you responded:

                > Do we have any examples of complete or reasonably so apocalypses
                which go
                > for the one at the expense of the other? It's easy to find examples
                which
                > encompass both; contrast for instance the vengefulness of
                Rev.19:17-20:3,
                > etc., etc. with the scene at the end of the book. Surely this
                combination of
                > blessings and curses is a familiar theme adapted from the prophets?

                Indeed there is ample precedent in the Torah for this, although probably
                also in the Prophets. This is a good point. However, the classic
                blessings and curses in the Torah do not appear in an apocalyptic
                context. Can you give me a good example from the prophets of what you
                have in mind?

                But while we're speaking of OT precedents, don't forget also that the
                major meaning of "salvation" in the OT was corporate: God would save
                *Israel*. I think the soteriology here is critical. Only in the Prophets
                of the Exile, when there was no Jewish state to save, did soteriology
                begin to become personal.

                >... I think there is an underlying theological point, though,
                > which is valid. How exactly to you deal with evil, whether we are
                talking
                > about the individual mass murderer, monstrous regimes ..., or the even
                bigger evils ...
                > which seem to derive from the very way things
                > are ordered in this world, without judgement and the destruction of
                the evil?
                > The question is, I think, how far will the judgement go, and only God
                herself
                > can answer that one.

                You touch on the classic problem of Theodicy here. In a sense,
                apocalyptic provides an answer, of sorts, to theodicy.

                >
                > ... In Jesus' day, you
                > slaughtered your enemies when you got the chance, and expected God
                > to act likewise. Much of the vision of judgement is culturally
                mediated,
                > depending on how the writer would expect people to act on a defeated
                foe; this
                > is then projected onto God. ...

                This is common enough. But our task is to find out what *Jesus* thought
                or did about such matters. Was Jesus counter-cultural, in this case, or a
                man of the people? Jesus appears to reframe this debate in a number of
                ways.
                Passages like the Beelzebul controversy seem to suggest that Jesus
                thought in terms of a struggle between the forces of good and evil, and
                was understood in these terms by some.
                To him, corporate salvation may have referred to the total "good". Acts
                of individual salvation (e.g., healing) were skirmishes with a larger
                frame of reference.

                In any case, I think you have made an interesting connection between
                apocalyptic and theodicy that merits further examination.

                Bob
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