We’re winding up our Razing Hell sermon series this weekend by talking about the Second Coming of Christ, terrain normal Christians cede to the fundies, which is a shame because we need the full trajectory of our story to shape our present faith and action in the world. I already pointed out what I take to be the problems with the Left Behind rapture way of reading scripture. As a corollary, here are some of my own guidelines when it comes to talking about the Second Coming.
- Christians must be mindful that, because this is a matter of deepest mystery, the bible’s speech is necessarily imagistic, metaphorical and parabolic. The bible, so to speak, gives us poetry about the End not prose. It’s poetry rooted in and consistent with what God has shown us in Christ but it’s still poetry. It’s not a photograph or rote dictation of the future that awaits us. Jesus never returned from the grave to describe the landscape or furniture of heaven.
- Our hope is grounded in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the beginning of creation, the purpose of this God has been to share God’s life and love with creatures. Our speech of the End cannot be in contradiction with what the love shown to us in the Son, and our hope of the End must be in harmony with the aims of God revealed at Good Friday and Easter.
- Our hope cannot be expressed dualistically. Just as evil and sin are privations, no-thing, our understanding of the End cannot then predict a final conflict between Good and Evil as though Evil were a living, equal opponent to God. Likewise, our hope is holistic. God has declared everything good not just our ‘spirit’ or soul. Our speech about the End cannot then distinguish between the material and the spiritual, the body and the soul, the personal and the communal. We don’t hope to escape this body. We don’t hope to escape this world. Our hope is for God to restore everything and every part of us.
- Our hope in the End relativizes all earthly power. This is what animates John’s Revelation. ‘Rome’ won’t last forever and will lose eventually; therefore, we need not take its power seriously. We need not fear and we need not succumb. God wins in the end. Literally, we have all the time in the world to live faithfully.
- Our hope is for an End. What makes Christians different, from say Eastern religions, is that we believe Time and History will come to an end. Time and History are not cyclical. This End is not, as contemporary apocalypticism suggests, a violent closure; it’s an End that is a fulfillment of this creation. A fulfillment that leads to a new creation.