RE: [XTalk] Re: apocalyptic Jesus and the problem of evil
- Robert Benchley writes:
"Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why
> take seriously his "Love your enemies" and "Be perfect/compassionate asBenchley raises an interesting point. Of late I have gravitated to an
> heavenly Father is perfect/compassionate" and at the same time think that
> Jesus imagined God wiping out the enemies of justice? Which would you
> to be closer to the heart of the HJ's life (in both words and deeds)?"
"either / or"
scenario with the HJ's REAL personality. One, his preaching and
could have had the sound and gnostic quality of much of the Gospel of John
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
and "Iscariot" families, preferred to emphasize his potential for military
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
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.
- Sukie Curtis wrote:
> >Bob Schacht replied:
> > ...I agree that apocalyptic hopes are an utterly understandable
> response to
> > intense suffering and persecution, especially for a people who
> > 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
> > violence. What's good for "us" results in torment and destruction for
> > "them." ...
> I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, whichSorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q's
> 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.
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
"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
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.
- 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
> 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.
- George Brooks wrote:
> Of late I have gravitated to anGeorge,
>"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.
The latter makes the most sense for it helps to explain the historical
fact of Jesus' crucifixion.
Weston-on-Trent, Derby, UK
Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
- 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
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.
- On Thu, 4 May 2000 16:55:31 EDT RSBrenchley@... writes:
> There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recoveringafter being
> attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up tocoping
> 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,
> embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorativeapocalyptic.
> That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God willput
> everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrowa
> phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or byTo which you responded:
> afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). >>
> Do we have any examples of complete or reasonably so apocalypseswhich go
> for the one at the expense of the other? It's easy to find exampleswhich
> encompass both; contrast for instance the vengefulness ofRev.19:17-20:3,
> etc., etc. with the scene at the end of the book. Surely thiscombination 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,talking
> which is valid. How exactly to you deal with evil, whether we are
> about the individual mass murderer, monstrous regimes ..., or the evenbigger evils ...
> which seem to derive from the very way thingsthe evil?
> are ordered in this world, without judgement and the destruction of
> The question is, I think, how far will the judgement go, and only Godherself
> 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
> depending on how the writer would expect people to act on a defeatedfoe; 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
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.