Friday, April 06, 2007

Future Thoughts, part II

I like to think about history. Some history is easy, such as the history of my friends - how they got from point A to point B in their lives. Some history is hard, such as how the entire country of Germany could become so arrogant that they tried to take over the world in World War II.

I suppose I'm not too interested in dates and places - I can't really remember many dates at all. I'm more interested in the event and how the event affected what came after. How did the events in the lives of my friends get them to where they are today? How did the events in the history of Germany lead them to warmongering and genocide? I'm interested in the trajectory of things.

And so I spend time thinking about the future, how the things that happened yesterday or today will play out in the future. I think about my own trajectory, the trajectory of my kids, of my friends, of my church, of the Church. I think a lot about the future. Not because I'm worried about it, but because I want my vision of the future to effect how I live life today.

When I think about the future, the ULTIMATE future, I am convinced that I will be consummated with Christ. But what does that mean for how I act today?

To answer this, I think a little more about history. The Biblical authors seemed to think that this consummation with Christ would happen within their lifetime. It didn't. Neither did it happen within the lifetime of the next generation of Christians, nor the next, nor the next. The ultimate future that we, as Christians, expect to come hasn't come for 2,000 years. And it might not come for 2,000 more.

Yet the Biblical authors were filled with a certain sense of urgency concerning Christ's return. They didn't think that because Christ was coming soon that they weren't going to get much accomplished. Instead, they devoted their lives to the fellowship, to preaching and teaching the good news of Christ. They built communities of faith who took care of each other - they strained towards the goal that Christ taught while on earth. Their belief in the coming of Christ spurred them to action.

So, when I hear Christians say things like, "I just hope Christ comes back before that," I'm chilled to the core. James Watt, the secretary of the interior during Ronald Regan's presidency is well known for saying, "We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand." In the conversations I've had, many Christians seem to believe something similar to Mr Watt. Or, when I hear preachers saying that Sodom and Gomorrah need an apology if Hollywood or LasVegas or *name any city here* isn't judged harshly by God, I become severely troubled in my spirit.

Since when is the immanent coming of Christ an excuse for judgmental or lackadaisical attitudes? It seems to me that the Biblical example is that the immanent coming of Christ should motivate us to action - to build strong communities of faith, to start missions to those pagan cities who need Christ more than they need God's judgment. It also seems to me that the perspective God has given us as 21st century Christians is that the ultimate consummation with Christ might also be far-off, so our Christian stewardship on every level should show to those who come behind us how faithful we really were. Instead, I see many Christians behaving as if the work of Christ will have to wait until Christ returns.

Here's my point - our ultimate consummation with Christ isn't just about some future event. Consummation with Christ happens now - today - as I let myself become consumed with the very thoughts and actions of Christ to the point where I want to act out his mission in the world. Consummation with Christ is a future thought that affects me today as I am led by the same Spirit that led Christ to rebuke the false religious teachings of the day, to offer forgiveness and healing to the tax collector, the prostitute, and the blind.

Being consumed with Christ means I have an urgency to do his work - to proclaim the good news. But knowing that his return could be another 10,000 years also sheds new light on Jesus' phrase "The kingdom of God is in your midst" (Luke 17:21), indeed, all the other passages about the Kingdom of God indicate something similar. The Kingdom of God isn't just some far-off place that we'll get to in the future - a significant part of the Kingdom of God is now, in those who gather together with the same Spirit as the Apostles, to be consumed with Christ.

This is my favorite future thought - that the coming of Christ (whenever it may be) consumes me so that I live today as if it already occurred. Not that I don't struggle with things, but that my trajectory is determined by events that haven't yet occurred. This lends new meaning to the saying, "Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13)


lorri said...

i know i have said this before, but i like your blog, ben, because it makes me think. thanks for challenging me to think about more than my day and what is going on in my life and the lives of the people i love. i need to think about the people i only sort of like and don't like and don't even know and how i can be an example of christ to them.

Benjamin said...

Thanks, Alethia. It was a little long - I've not blogged in so long I need to remember how to make the posts more to the point. I'm glad you stuck with the whole thing.

Especially after the last post. I was supposed to be funny, but no one laughed. I guess it is only funny if you are in my head - which is really pretty frightening if you think about it.

In any case, Happy Easter!

Tracy P. said...

Ben, Glad you took the time to make sure your audience was still in place before you posted this. I laughed. :-) This one was worth the wait.

So how is the honesty/being yourself thing going?

Benjamin said...

Well, honestly, the honesty/being yourself thing is stressful. It's really easy to be misunderstood.

Especially if you don't describe things using the same phrases evangelical Christians are used to, which is what I usually do.

Otherwise, its going great. ;-)

knelson said...

I agree Ben - even the the first disciples of Christ were looking forward to His return. Where would we be had they taken this attitude of complacency?! Press On friend! :)