The Apocalypse of the Cross and the End of History

“Our eschatology shapes our ethics.” – Rob Bell, Love Wins

Eschatology (the study of the last things) is often a reading and interpreting one’s own time. For ancient Jews and early Christians, eschatological readings of history were done through apocalyptic (revelatory) events or writings which colored their understanding of the last things. In this sense, an apocalypse is not a destructive event per se, but rather a reading of one’s own history and the anticipation of its culmination. This important lens which colors much of Christian theology was highlighted by Biblical scholars such as Ernst Käsemann who said the “apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology (The Apocalyptic Imagination, 1).” In this sense, the crucifixion of Christ is apocalyptic in so far as it becomes the revelatory lens through which Christians read human history from its beginning to its anticipated end (eschatology). Because it is the primary lens for Christians, it is also the beginning of the eschaton, a foretaste of what Christians expect to come in their own lives and the world.

As a Christian within a Ground-of-Being framework for God, I don’t read the apocalypse of the cross as a parallel for what will literally happen (tribulation and bodily resurrection), rather the revelation of the cross is an apocalyptic lens for life (resurrection). Therefore, for me faith which proclaims Jesus as the Christ (or New Being) in light of his death and resurrection, is believing that the Ground-of-Being perpetually generates the possibility of hope, new life and being even in the midst of the ambiguous estrange suffering of existence. In this sense, the suffering and death of Christ reveal the suffering and death inherent to life and the very real possibility for it to intensify. I hold that one should come to terms with suffering and death while simultaneously opposing its spread (pick up the cross). This means that a person should not pad life with shallow commodities that desensitize them to the suffering of others but rather should come face to face with the suffering in the world through acts of love.

Through the courage to face and resist the estrangement and death perpetuated in life, the true (essential) nature of life is revealed in existence and the parties involved may momentarily experience resurrection, what the theologian Jürgan Moltmann calls the “eternal livingness” or depth of life (In the End – The Beginning 152-153). This resurrection to life (and its depths), is the hopeful anticipation of the Church, as it works to see this realized first for the oppressed but even the oppressor. This is the in-breaking of the eschaton (last things), the already-but-not-yet of God’s kin-dom. Yet, it should be noted that this hope will remain unfulfilled for the Church if the Church fails to embody genuine love for the other (the other in themselves and the world).

To be clear, the last word of history cannot yet be known, and an afterlife is highly speculative (although one can hope). But regardless, humanity can see the future it is forming by paying close attention to how it has and is fortifying and annihilating life on this earth. The revelatory lens of the Christ crucified, urges us that even though the effects of our actions are often ambiguous, when and where suffering is revealed we must not deny or glorify it, but resist it with radical love for the sufferer. This resistance will not eradicate suffering for in some sense it is inherent to life, but rather mitigates suffering while amplifying the depth and breadth of life.

In the words of Peter Rollins, “the apocalypse isn’t coming; it has already arrived (The idolatry of God 1-2).” It is seen in the faces of the poor, the homeless, and the refugee. it is felt in the anguish of the widow, the orphan, and the prisoner. It is heard in the ecological groans of the earth, the sea, and the glaciers. The end is knocking at our door, empowered by the suffering that we created. We can ignore it and return to our shallow life-less existence of commodities, capitalism, and comfort; or we answer can the door with love, care, and tenderness and experience the joyous fullness of life in the face of our Other. For truly I tell you, just as you do to one of the least of these you have done it to the Christ (Matt. 25:31-46).

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The featured image is The Adoration of the Lamb” a part of the larger Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eck. The blood pouring out of the lamb becomes to source for the fountain’s water. This relates to my above essay, in so far as the attention to and affirmation of suffering of the Other, the Christ, becomes a means by which the worshipers partake in the water of Life.

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