“Now or never/ too close to the latter/we’re all living proof that nothing lasts…”
When we get to the ‘end of things’ – real life actually starts happening. It has been a difficult couple of lectures actually – I was asked to come into this course to fill in after Stan Grentz’s sudden death, so having a class of students in mourning after the loss of their teacher and then – define ‘irony‘ – being asked to lecture on ‘end times’ and other Eschatological themes proved a difficult thing. One of the issues that became very apparent as we worked our way through the various classic theological typologies of amillenialism, premillenialism, preterist, and postmillenialist views was that ‘theology’ can be a wall and a millstone around our necks rather than a comfort if we are not humble and still amidst the real questions of a community searching for meaning in the dark night of the soul. People weren’t ready for the terms until we did due diligence to the real task at hand – a tragic and sudden loss. This was particularly apparent early on in the lecture when students challenged “whether any of this was necessary? why is this important?” On one level, I admit feeling frustrated – “are students just this anti-intellectual, so quick to be dismissive of learning about history?” – but after reflecting this past week and coming back today, I realized the all-too-hard lesson every teacher needs to go through from time to time… I wasn’t here to necessarily teach THEM as much as they were here to teach me. As they pushed me hard on the topics and railed against the ‘worthiness’ of knowing ‘this stuff’… they broke through the proverbial teacher/student wall and we settled into being humans with each other.
Eschatology gets wrapped up in discussions of time – “when is the second coming…coming?” “Are we in the end times?” – when time is actually the ‘last thing’ (pun intended) the NT writers had in mind. As George Eldon Ladd wrote almost 30 years ago in The Theology of the New Testament:
“There is no New Testament word for “eternity” and we are not to think of eternity as the Greeks did, as something other than time. In biblical thought eternity is unending time. In Hellenism men longed for release from the cycle of time in a timeless world beyond, but in biblical thought time is the sphere of human existence both now and in the future. The impression given by the Authorised Version at Revelation 10:6, “that there should be time no longer,” is corrected in the RSV, “there should be no more delay.” (p. 47)
Eschatology – like the heart of the Gospel – is about relationships that both transcend, and ultimately, give meaning to time. ‘Last things’ help us understand first things in ways that Stephen Covey only hinted at. Sitting there, listening to the students talk and muse about their vocation and desire to make real the presense of God in a way that is both unflinching to suffering yet hopeful in a dynamic way reminded me that ‘theology’ qua theology is a dish best eaten amidst meaningful dialogue and humble repose with an eye on the ‘other’ who is still awaiting the invite in the hedgerows and alleyways. Being a ‘theoblogian’ is a challenge to await the voice of the other and listen deeply to what not only needs to be said…but what needs to be heard. Dialogue – not monologue – is the heartbeat of truth’s methodology and the bridge truth crosses most efficiently and lasting impact is that of an authentic relationship.
It isnt that time is running out – it is that even at the end of time, Francis Thompson’s hound of heaven is still running and pursuing us to finally start living. Too evangelical there? Well… I think we have ‘time’ to talk about it some more…