What Will Happen in the Future?
‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.'
Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, which we traditionally associate with waiting - particularly a sort of active waiting or anticipation, a looking ahead to what is to come. We do this in two senses: Firstly, we think about what was to come for those who lived before the time of Jesus, the 'many prophets and righteous people [who] longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it" (Matthew 13:17). Secondly, we look towards what is to come for us, when Jesus comes again in majesty. We ask ourselves, what will happen in the future?
In response to this question, Jim gave three answers.
1. The Humanist answer.
"We are moving, as a human civilisation, closer and closer towards utopia through our own endeavour." Arising in many guises throughout human history, a couple of clear recent examples are Marxism or liberal democracy, the latter of which was supposed to usher in "the end of history".
There are many Christian traditions too, including Anglicanism, in which this line of thinking is present. Many Christians are optimistic that God will work through human beings to fix this world, and that our efforts will help to hasten the day when things are put right again.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
- William Blake
2. The Anti-Humanist answer.
"The future is bleak because humanity has failed and will continue to fail". You don't have to look far for this kind of opinion in our society at present, with the argument usually focusing on war or environmental degradation. While Humanism was much more popular in the 20th Century, this realist line of thinking that sees beyond the optimism of Humanism is on the ascendancy in our day.
It is also present in theology. A prominent example of this is the recurring idea of millenarianism - the idea that human sin is so grave that it triumphs in this world and God will have to intervene to bring about a better future - which in its most recent form is known as dispensationalism. This idea draws heavily from the scriptures such as the one referenced above, and suggests that things will get so bad in the future that true Christians will be taken out of the world, leaving the rest of humanity to deal with the turbulence of a new millennial era.
3. A More Theological answer.
"The world began in God, and the world is in the constant process of returning to God". The world is moving towards its origin, and we are on a journey into God, rather than away from God's original design. Jesus is very emphatic that we do not know the hour, and it is important not to create a theology that suggests we do - which is the foundation of many cults. Jim suggests we should instead be "living our lives with a disposition towards that journey back into God".
This includes being aware that this journey back into God is partly a reckoning, or judgement, albeit a judgement with mercy. People often find it hard to reconcile judgement with the kind of God they want to believe in, but a theology of judgement says that "justice is cosmic", "justice is eternal" and "justice is ultimately something that can left to God". For many, justice remains elusive during their lifetime, and for them it is incredibly powerful to be able to say "we can't right all of the wrongs in this world, but we believe in a God through whom that will ultimately happen".
Where do we fit in with this?
Everything fits into God's purposes: "In the journey towards the culmination of all things in Christ, God is forgiving our sins, healing our frailties, and even working with our failure" for the advancement of his Kingdom. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, "Everything passes away, but love does not pass away". Our labours of love in this world do not earn our salvation, but nevertheless "What we do in love for the furthering of God's Kingdom will be recognised by Jesus when he returns." Our motivation is therefore not fear of what lies ahead, nor sheer optimism about what we accomplish in our own strength, but an assurance that comes from knowing the love of God, and a desire to enact that love into our world day by day.
For the full recording of this sermon see here.
Image courtesy of heartsings77 (Tumblr) - https://heartsings77.tumblr.com/post/185631617928/wiirocku-matthew-2444-nkjv-therefore-you