July 9, 2020

The Most Vexing Question

Sea of Faces, Evelyn Williams (info below)

Sea of Faces, Evelyn Williams (info below)

We do not see our signs;
There is no longer any prophet,
Nor is there any among us who knows how long.
How long, O God . . .

• Psalm 74:9-10

• • •

What is (or should be) the most troublesome matter in theology for Christian people?

It is the fact that we are still here as we’ve always been, and that the world has not been transformed under the rule of Christ.

We read words in the New Testament like this:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

• Romans 8:18-25

Yes, the text speaks of “waiting with patience” for the hope promised to Jesus’ followers. However, remember, those words were written to believers nearly 2,000 years ago! At that time, the apostle says, creation was waiting “with eager longing” for its final redemption. Haven’t creation’s “labor pains” continued past the point that anyone would expect? Didn’t Paul go on to say, “the night is far gone, the day is near”? (13:12).

“Quite clearly, whatever Paul expected, he expected it to happen soon, and no doubt within his own lifetime” (Stephen S. Smalley).

Doesn’t the New Testament lead us to believe that Jesus ushered in “the last days,” the days when God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will be done on earth as in heaven?

The book of Hebrews says:

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. (1:1-2)

It also gives perspective on the relationship of Jesus’ followers to the saints that came before:

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. (11:39-40)

The author’s point is that, before Jesus came, people were waiting, looking, longing for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They were people of faith and hope, trusting in God’s word that one day he would act, that the “city” he was “preparing” would become their home. Throughout their lives and throughout the long history of Israel, they wandered and struggled and hoped toward that future pledge.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (11:13-16)

But now, the author of Hebrews proclaims, we have received it!

Of course, that didn’t imply an immediate consummation, for the author then goes on to talk about a race that his readers must run with perseverance (12:1-13). But a 2,000 year race is one whale of a marathon, and there appears to be no finish line in sight.

Who would have thought that the life of Jesus’ church in “the last days” would span a history as long as Israel’s before Christ? And that our history would be as checkered under the risen and reigning Christ? Is there any indication of this in the New Testament?

It was common in 20th century N.T. studies to talk about how the “delay of the parousia” became a problem in the early church and is reflected in the development of teaching in the N.T. itself. Some scholars tried to show how the authors transitioned to a “realized eschatology,” redefining what it means to say that “Jesus will return.” Others tried to more carefully define the tension between “already” and “not yet” in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Still others deny a “development” in the N.T. texts, but rather see different emphases based on the needs of the communities which were being addressed.

The focus of all these studies had to do with the nature of future hope in the early days of the Jesus movement and how that is reflected in the writings of that period. But I don’t think “the delay of the parousia” posed as much of a problem for the believers in N.T. times as it does for us at this stage in church history.

I’ve been reading more of Andrew Perriman’s “narrative-historical” views on his blog P.OST and in his book, The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans Before and After Western Christendom.

Perriman interprets the vast majority of New Testament teachings about “the end” to refer to historical judgments that were in close proximity to the days of Jesus and the apostles and intimately related to the world in which they lived. In the Gospels, Jesus’ teachings about “the end” pointed to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and apostolic warnings about “the wrath to come” and “Jesus’ return” pointed to the triumph of Christ over the pagan Greco-Roman empire, which eventually came to pass through the establishment of Christendom. Perriman also holds that there is a “final” eschatology that looks beyond these to the new creation.

But that still leaves a large, unexplained (unforeseen?) gap in history. Various eschatological systems have tried to explain how the “end times” will work and what will happen when Jesus returns. But to my knowledge, this problem of an extended interval that lasts thousands of years has been and remains largely ignored, even though I think it raises profound and perplexing questions for our faith.

The cry, “How long?” is starting to wear thin.

• • •

Header Art: Sea of Faces by Evelyn Williams.


  1. I would imagine that the people of Israel in the Old Testament felt very much the same way.

    Concordia Catechetical Academy (publishers of Lutheran Catechesis, a series of teacher guides for Lutheran homes, churches, and schools) put out one book on Genesis that suggested that Adam and Eve might have expected Cain, who was quite literally and immediately “the seed of the woman,” to have been the Messiah.

    • HTML fail there; wish I could edit posts.

    • Another example is the skewed expectations of the arrival of the Messiah held by most Jews at the time of Chirst’s first coming. And when the Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, many exiles wept because the glory of the old temple didn’t return, nor did the prophesied glory of the New Temple arrive. The consistent pattern throughout history has been that God’s people have done a pretty poor job of second-guessing His timetable for how history will turn out.

      Did Christ die on the cross and rise from the dead? If so, He kept His word about that, and He will keep His word about returning to set all things right. We already have enough on our plates to worry about to bother too much about Jesus’s eschatological itinerary. 😉

  2. The way-overlong delay in Jesus’ return and the (pretty evident to me once I allowed for their possibly being mistaken on this point) fact that the NT authors and writings – even including some of Jesus’ statements – seemed to expect his return within their own or their readers’ lifetimes has for some time now probably been my biggest problem or question or issue re: the inspiration of the NT and its authors (and Preterism hasn’t solved the problem for me).

    • Aidan Clevinger says

      It isn’t a complete solution, but I think that the whole idea of inaugurated eschatology helps. The last days *have* arrived and the Day *has* happened to Jesus and also in Baptism and the Eucharist, even if we’re waiting for the full manifestation of those realities.

      • Robert F says

        I believe this only helps if you have a sacramental understanding of Holy Communion as involving the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in his full humanity and divinity, as many here at imonk do not. I do, however, understand it that way myself.

        • This new day also includes the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, the striking down of ethnic divisions in the Kingdom, the defeat of death and the anticipation of resurrected life, the commission to proclaim the Kingdom to all the earth, and so on. There is enough good stuff to go around for all of us!

  3. Aidan Clevinger says

    Hermann Sasse once wrote an essay on this very question. If I recall, his assertion was that the only reason the Church can be the long wait until the end of the age because she experiences a little parousia during each Supper. The Church on earth, receiving the forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, is joined together in faith and love and praises God with the heavenly host. According to Sasse, that, and that alone, is that what makes us able to endure.

    Of course, he doesn’t answer the question of *why* God leaves such a gap, except to refer it to the mystery of the cross. But I thought it was a great truth all the same.

  4. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

    I think it will work out something like this:

    1) All acephalous unicorns will be raptured immediately to a fluffy cloud area, where a harp will be plucked for one thousand years under Danny Elfman’s watchful eye. This will be followed by 10,000 years of sitting around the campfire relating how each person came to accept the gospel of personal salvation and only personal salvation. After that, any survivors are allowed to go to heaven.

    2) All unbelievers receive the mark of the beast, which entitles them to purchase 32oz soft-drinks. It turns out that, in an ironic twist worthy of a hollywood movie, the Anitchrist is Nicholas Cage. Hilarity ensues.

    3) True believers were scheduled to be raptured, but decided that it wasn’t fair to miss out on the bad guys being tormented, and so held a church council meeting and voted to stick around for a bit and watch some infidels burn. It ends up being the first pot-luck where the church members actually get along and have a good time.

  5. I have to agree Chap Mike, I have been struggling with this for a while now and I find it quite challenging to my faith. I do wonder why God hasn’t wrapped up history yet because I think “how much worse does it have to get?”. Are we some sort of cosmic experiment? In fact for me, it calls into question the very idea of a loving God. People say to me, “ahh but one day…..etc, etc” and my reply is along the lines of how much more evil has to take place before the eschaton finally arrives and I’m rewarded with blank looks. Perhaps we don’t cry out enough, but I’m sure those subect to continual violence and the possibility being blown up on a daily basis must ask the question and they certainly need answers to their prayers. Indeed the question of “how long” does raise profound questions, for some of us at least.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Why hasn’t God wrapped up history yet? Too many unsaved people need saving. Maybe. Or maybe not.

  6. Georges Boujakly says

    A vexing question for sure. It is wearing thin. Coping is burdensome. Hope thrives in the midst of unresolved tensions. I believe our Gid is good and loving. His reasons and ways above mine. In a posture of brokenness and cry for merciful intervention I live daily. This kind of issue demands prayer and fasting regularly from me. Prayer for the King’s coming to rule in person and fasting in solidarity with a weeping universe.

    • Yes, it is a vexing question and yours is about the only comment here that, in my view, manages to grasp it. Thank you for your comment.

      • I must confess, I’ve been a bit disappointed in some of the responses. In my view, this is a serious question. Is there anything in the New Testament that would lead a reader to believe that the age to come following Jesus would look anything like, “Old Testament, part II”?

        In what I’ve read, Perriman’s view comes closest to taking the decisive nature of Christ’s victory seriously and applying it to actual history. But then, after the triumph of Christendom over pagan empire, we have a story that still extends over 1500 years, about which the NT is apparently silent.

        It’s all well and good to pooh pooh the concern and believe that God will work it out in the end — perhaps after all is said and done, that’s all we can do. But why so little lament about the lack of transformation in ourselves, the church, and the world?

        • Robert F says

          Is it possible that many of us really don’t believe it in our heart of hearts, and so don’t really expect transformation? Could the secret of our lack of lament be that Christianity is a facade that doesn’t really touch us at our center, but which we like to keep up for reasons other than our confidence in its truthfulness?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > In my view, this is a serious question.

          Indeed. But I have no answers. Most of the answers I hear, honestly, I find intellectually **disgusting**. Hearing them makes me angry, that is hard to express, and be civil. The answers amount to – Just vague it up, add some quantum quasi-science hoo ha, deepen the metaphor… none of these things IMO address the plain question. But again, I have no answers. Over the years I’ve heard so much of dodging the question it just exhausts me to go there.

          > It’s all well and good to pooh pooh the concern

          I do not agree that pooh pooh is “all well and good”. But doing anything else will result in severe unpopularity.

          > and believe that God will work it out in the end

          I suppose I do. But I do not have a clear picture of what that looks like.

          > But why so little lament about the lack of transformation in ourselves, the church, and the world?

          There is a great deal of lament, I assure you. But lament is hard to express in our culture – you just become ‘that negative guy”. That gets to be an old roll.

        • Chaplain Mike, if you’ve been disappointed in some of the responses, one might ask, What is your response to this serious question?

          • That will fill the rest of the week as I wrestle with this question. Today, my response is what it appears to be: bewilderment, serious bewilderment.

  7. This is an issue that has never troubled me, but certainly not due to even a nanogram of superior faith or theology. I have seen, on a tiny scale in my own personal life, that His ways are not my ways, and His timing is almost never in sync with what “I” think the answer to prayers ‘should be’.

    Perhaps the issue is that we are bound, utterly, to the constraints of time and temporal flow, and God is not. The calling of Abram, the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Crusades, Henry VII and Luther and Calvin, wars and famines and the world as it looks in 3029 are all the same to Him. All of what we experience as time and history and future are as one to God….while we remain earth bound and time bound.

    My feeble guess as to His “delay” is a deduction from personal experience and my faith in Him, based on being intimately involved in the life and death of others, especially as a hospice nurse. I have observed….with ZERO evidence, lest you ask, that often the people who are lacking in faith, not at peace, or who are not very nice people tend to live longer lives. (With the often-repeated noting that sometimes the good really DO die younger…). It is my personal opinion that God is letting them have more time to “get it together” in order to experience the Joy of His presence after death. In this same manner, perhaps God is giving humankind the same sort of “time” to get our collective act together before He drops the curtain on this part of His creation and relationship with man.

    I could be just as wrong as wrong can be, but this has struck me as a working hypothesis for many years….knowing full well that the REAL answer, like all else I don’t know, will have to wait until I leave this body behind and get to meet my Lord and God face to face.

    • Pattie, I think there may be something to what you’re saying here:

      My feeble guess as to His “delay” is a deduction from personal experience and my faith in Him, based on being intimately involved in the life and death of others, especially as a hospice nurse. I have observed….with ZERO evidence, lest you ask, that often the people who are lacking in faith, not at peace, or who are not very nice people tend to live longer lives. (With the often-repeated noting that sometimes the good really DO die younger…). It is my personal opinion that God is letting them have more time to “get it together” in order to experience the Joy of His presence after death. In this same manner, perhaps God is giving humankind the same sort of “time” to get our collective act together before He drops the curtain on this part of His creation and relationship with man.

      Years ago I heard a lecture by Stuart Briscoe on 2 Peter 3 (and I still have the tape somewhere) where he addresses this and the question, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Briscoe concluded that God is delaying out of his grace, that more may come into the kingdom.

      I mean, think of it: The devil is trying to overthrow God, and steal souls away from Him. How much more of a fool could God make out of the devil than to stall and bring more people in? And your idea of God’s grace allowing nonbelievers to live long enough to “get it together” follows that pattern. Also, they may be afraid to die and therefore can’t release themselves into death. I’ve noticed that too.

      I think God puts up with quite a lot. But when his people become the instruments of Satan, out of pride, watch out. When the Bride of Christ becomes the Whore of Babylon, if I were God I’d say “Time’s up.”

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      I have also never really struggled with this, but only because the way I see it, not one single Bible character saw the end. They had to work out their faith in the here-and-now. Frankly, that takes up so much of my energy, that I don’t have time to think about anything else.

      • Danielle says

        This is a comforting point to me. At some point in tossing and turning over questions I can’t answer, it occurred to me (really sunk in, finally) that I’d not quite shaken the idea that Scripture is this giant treasury from which one extracts truths and principles. What do we have instead? A bunch of characters, the most privileged of all of us, and even they have no idea what was going on – let alone where they story they’d stepped into was going to wind up down the line. If the greats didn’t really know these things, then perhaps no one is meant to know them. I’m no patriarch: why would I understand any more, or even half as much, as Abraham? As Jacob? As …?

        On a related note, for this reason I love the passage about Jacob & the angel. Over time the whole image has gotten so intertwined with how I’ve come to understand faith, that I’m quite in debt to it.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Yes, this is kinda comforting. I like it.

  8. All I know is that if Jesus does return it’s not going to be like anything we can imagine. For all we know, maybe He already has returned and we don’t even realize it because it’s not in a way we had imagined.

    • While I disagree that it’s already happened, you’re absolutely correct about this: it won’t be anything like we can imagine.

      The best reason for such a perspective is the unexpected nature of His first coming.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        While I disagree that it’s already happened, you’re absolutely correct about this: it won’t be anything like we can imagine.


    • It’s interesting that you raise the possibility that Christ has already returned. In the Eucharistic Prayer of St. John Chrysostom, which is used in Byzantine Rite Churches, the priest thanks God for the second coming of Christ in the past tense. As I understand it, the use of past tense language doesn’t mean that the second coming has already happened within history, but that the mystery of Christ’s second coming is at work within the Eucharist such that the second coming can be referred to as having already happened. This is much like the mystery of the Cross being at work throughout history prior to the historical occurrence of Christ’s Crucifixion so that Christ could be called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. A sacramental understanding of these things allow us to break free from a strictly literal/linear understanding of time and history.

      • Robert F says

        We really have no idea how time and eternity are related. I tend to believe that the mystery of the Incarnation, along with the mystery of the Cross, has also been at work throughout history.

        • Another one is the “spirit of anti-Christ, of which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world”. The Scriptures use this kind of language, indicating that there are deeper realities tied to historical events and which are at mystically at work within history before and after the historical occurrence. Maybe part of what we will see at Christ’s parousia is how events like the incarnation, crucifixion and second coming were always present and at work throughout history.

  9. For me personally this is not one of the most vexing questions. I realize that there are varying interpretations of Matthew 24, but when you consider that Jesus said the gospel of the Kingdom would be preached throughout the whole world and then the end would come, it is not all that surprising that the end has not yet come. Even today there are people groups who have not heard the gospel. And though Christianity may not be growing in North America anymore, there are many parts of the world where more people are coming to faith in Christ than ever before. I do think, especially considering 2 Peter 3:4 that the early Christians struggled with this question, but they also had no way of knowing just how big the world is. And if we are going to take Peter at his word, then God tarries in order to give more people a chance for repentance.

    • That’s the standard answer, but I’m finding it less satisfying these days. As you say, I’m not sure that is the correct understanding of Matt 24, and our missiology has only introduced the idea of “people groups” in recent times. As for 2Peter, the issue wasn’t so much Christians doubting, but scoffers mocking. The longer this goes on, the more it becomes a Christian issue.

      I guess one of the few positive things I could say is that if the new creation had come sooner you and I wouldn’t be here discussing this. So I’m thankful to be able to do that.

      • I’m thankful for that as well. I think another dilemma Christians get into concerning the return of Jesus is that some want to Jesus to come back, just not yet. I have heard, and even thought myself, “I want Jesus to come back, but I would like to get married first, see my children grow up first, etc.” It’s kind of like the Joe Diffy song Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die. I want to go to heaven, I just don’t want to go tonight.

        • Stevie and Thomas says

          And what you’ve said is a misunderstanding of the love of God — the Son — Christ and the cross.
          Can you hear Christ Himself say this to you? As if to say, “I’ve poured out my everything… can you see my redeeming hand in family? Can you hear my song, seeing the mountain — the tree — considering this wild flower?”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Jon, Stevie, Thomas:

          Both your comments/dilemmas/misunderstanding are corollaries of the “It’s All Gonna Burn” attitude.

          If It’s All Gonna Burn(TM) including “the mountain — the tree — considering this wildflower”, you want to put off that Great Utter Destruction as long as possible, because it means The End Of All You Hold Dear — mountain, tree, wildflower, marriage, children, LIFE.

          Never mind the image of God conveyed as the Ultimate Abaddon/Apollyon/Ares.

    • 2 Peter was written to Christians. It seems to me that it is they (3:9) who the Lord is waiting to come to repentance. That is why they are urged in 3:11-15 to behave better and thus hasten the Lord’s return. I.e., the Lord’s delay is so the church can get its act together, not so that the rest of the world can hear the Gospel and be saved. The exhortations they are given in chapter 1 are re: how they can escape the burning fate of world and be prepared to meet the Lord, not how they can spread the Gospel and get more people saved, as if that’s what God is waiting for.

    • Rick Ro. says

      As one who would’ve missed out on a great, deep relationship with the Father had He “ended things” in 1972 (just to grab one of my pre-born-again years), I’m thankful He didn’t “end things” in 1972. So I’m deeply grateful that He still hasn’t “ended things,” because I have a lot of loved ones and friends who are missing out.

  10. I was raised indy-fundy Landmark Baptist (i.e. a “Baptist Bride” church) that not only adhered deeply to the dispensational premillennialism of Scofieldism, but embeliished it with their own eschatalogical twist that we, the True Church, would be the Bride of Christ while everyone else who was not Landmark Baptist would be “guests” at the wedding feast of the Lamb. We used to regale ourselves with Jack Van Impe records on the Coming War With Russia (yes, on vinyl no less) and I even attended one of his crusdes as a boy. I cannot begin to count how many prophecy conferences, Revelation studies, and radio broadcasts from the Southwest Radio Churc/Bible In the News type venues I listened to. Heady stuff.

    What ruined everything for me was that I started reading the Bible. There is one thing that is patently clear about the Gospels and that was the fact that NO ONE believed that Jesus had things right when it came to this Advent stuff. First off, no one knew there was going to be a “Second Advent” so they were all quite surprised when he left. So much so that his closest followers were left standing on a hill staring up into the clouds waiting for him to pop back down and restore the Kingdom to Israel. It took an angelic intervention and explanation to clarify what Jesus had just that minute told them to do. And that doesn’t even count the religious scholars of the day who rejected Jesus because he didn’t fit their eschatology.

    Suffice to say, the lesson for me was that despite the “plain teaching” of scripture, we really just don’t get it. I gurarantee that if Jesus knocked on the door of most of the Baptist friends I have even today and introduced himself as the Son of God come in the flesh, they would IMMEDIATELY reject him because he wouldn’t fit their eschatology. So, beginning from a state of well-informed and deeply considered ignorance, I began re-reading scripture. I have come to the conclusion that I Don’t Know. More importantly, I’ve also concluded that no one else does either.

    This has led me to theorize that maybe the second coming IS a spiritual coming and maybe the postmillennialist/amillennialists were closer to being right than the premills. If you look at the flow of history over the last two millennia, you see a world that had no hospitals and very little health care to one in which America is derided as a backward country because we don’t have universal health care while the rest of the civilized world does. No, this isn’t a debate about Obamacare. It is a point that we live in a world that is having this discussion. Not only that, but it is happening in an age of longer lifespans due to reduced infant mortality and safer childbirth. Is the world perfect? By no means, but if we were to drop someone from the Roman Republic or even the High Renaissance into our modern society, they would think it WAS the millennium. We don’t see it because we’ve grown up with it and take it for granted. And this is just one tiny area. Even in the most brutal areas of current existence – the Middle East – we see arguments over killing of civilians as collateral damage. Can you imagine this being a concern during the Norman Conquest or the Peasants War?

    What if the second coming is the mustard seed-like growth that expands the Kingdom gradually until, like yeast hidden in bread, it permeates the whole world? What if Christianity persuades people to beat their nuclear weapons into farming implements? What if our role and our goal is to act like salt and preserve the earth through living like Jesus and that, like a city on a hilltop that can be seen for miles around, people see the good work that we do and glorify not us, but our Father in Heaven?

    • Reinterpretation is something we must consider. Thanks for helping us think about that, Rick. I’m sure, however, that many will resist. But seriously, unless we do some of that, can we honestly read the NT and think its authors had in mind a history for the church as long and checkered as Israel’s? Who would think “the last days” would be as extended and ambiguous as the former days?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      We used to regale ourselves with Jack Van Impe records on the Coming War With Russia (yes, on vinyl no less)….


      I cannot begin to count how many prophecy conferences, Revelation studies, and radio broadcasts from the Southwest Radio Churc/Bible In the News type venues I listened to. Heady stuff.

      Ah, yes. Southwest Radio Church. “Bible in the News — Today’s Headlines In Light Of BIBLE PROPHECY!” Followed by Antichrist sightings, PROVEN by a string of Bible Verse zip codes. For half an hour straight, every weekday. Different Antichrist every week. Different PROOF every week. All direct from the Book of Revelation! Are You Rapture Ready? Don’t Be Left Behind!

      From a distance, it sounds like the “It’s Coming! It’s Too Late! It’s All Over But The Screaming!” you got from the secular pessimist crowd of the time. With the resulting depression and despair.

      What ruined everything for me was that I started reading the Bible.

      And you discovered all this SCRIPTURE! proven Prophecy was B.S.

      (Doesn’t this remind you of the Uber-Protestant testimony of “I was Romish Papist — Mary, Rosary, Mary, Indulgences, Mary, Romanism, Mary — then I started reading the Bible for myself!”)

      • jazziscoolithink says

        HUG, you often remind me of Owen Meany–only with significantly less substance. I agree with the sentiments, but good grief! When you say the same thing the SAME WAY OVER AND OVER AGAIN, it’s like you’ve beaten the head off the drum and you’re still going strong. Maybe that’s the point: Headless Unicorn Guy, Headless Drum Guy, All Things Headless Guy.

        • Robert F says

          Perhaps A Prayer for Owen Meany would be fitting at this point.

          We all should always remember Owens sage advice: “THERE’S NO NEED TO BE CRUDE.”

    • Wow, that was pretty beautiful. Definitely something to think about. Thanks!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > What if the second coming is the mustard seed-like growth

      So all that stuff in Scripture essentially boils down to: “Eh, you guys will figure it out. Perhaps after you plunge your planet into an ice-age by nuking a few mega-cities and watch billions starve, but you know, learning is a bumpy road. Look how much you learned from the Great Wars and that holocaust!”. If that’s it – I am unimpressed and God is just a tease, at best.

    • I believe that World War 1, the Great Depression, and World War II also had a lot to do with changing the predominant believe from postmillennialist/amillennialists to premillenailism.

      • I think that the disillusionment with the optimism of traditional amillenianism/postmillenianism goes back even further than that, to the Civil War. By then Darby had already formulated his dispensationalist beliefs and Finney his premillenialist notions decades prior to the Scofield’s Bible.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But WW1/First Great Depression/WW2 pushed it to critical mass.

          And Dispy Premil promises an Escape before anything bad can personally happen to you. So why should you care about anything? You’ve got no stake in anything that happens. “This World is Not My Home, I’m Just Passin’ Thru”.

          When The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect anyone to plan ahead or dare great things.

  11. “How long to sing this song” From U2’s Yahweh and 40. Shalom.

  12. One day to God is like a thousand days (stuck in Sacramento) to us.

    He’s coming…not to worry.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “One day to God is like a thousand days”

      Sorry, but every single time I here that tired lame dull old saw I throw up a little bit.

      That is total hocus-pocus.

      • Rick Ro. says

        But possibly true.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Or not; there could also be a planet populated by pink unicorns. Nothing really supports this, it is just convenient and lets people stretch prophecies in all and any directions necessary.

          • Rick Ro. says

            Except that there are absolutely NO scriptures that say anything about pink unicorns, while there are SEVERAL scriptures that suggest that time, to God, is not just a one-for-one, minute-to-minute sort of deal.

          • Robert F says

            A year or so ago, I remember reading an article in my local paper (no, I don’t have citations) about a scientific experiment done in a huge European particle accelerator somewhere in the Alps. Some kind of subatomic particle was accelerated just past the speed of light (there are particles called tachyons that travel faster than light all the time, but they never go slower than the speed of light, and can’t be used in our scientific experiments).

            This particle was then fired along a lengthy path that ran right through the center of the mountains (at this subatomic level, the mountain is mostly empty space), and captured in some sort of receiver at the end of its flight. When the time it took the particle to make this trip was calculated, the scientists discovered that it had arrived at the receiver before it had been released by the particle accelerator. In other words, it had gone back in time, and if so, the normal time relationship of cause and effect had been reversed.

            Naturally, this was very disturbing to the scientists, who were hoping that other scientific teams would conduct the same experiment with results that would disprove their own. I haven’t heard anything about what has happened in the wake of this experiment since then.

          • Robert F says

            Maybe the everyday world of cause and effect and temporal order that we normally exist in is the result of an ongoing miracle, one that God mercifully ordains so that we will not be physically torn apart, and mentally undone, by what would otherwise come to us as a chaotic and orderless and senseless unreality.

  13. …Or, perhaps we are all fool who believe in ancient fables and myths. Perhaps we are turning and twisting what we believe are “holy scripture” in order to NOT lose faith in those myths and fables.

    I remember the day that I suddenly realized that the Christian cult I had been a member of for three years was a fraud. Three years invested in daily witnessing, bible memory and obedience to a paradigm, all lost. I discovered that I WAS lost, and it took another three years before my faith was rescued from the shoals that the cult had cast me upon.

    I still think of that, especially in the early mornings, and wonder if I am now part of a more sophisticated ruse, one that has survived 2000 years, following a man who was, himself, self deluded. But I still retain the longing in my heart that this is NOT the case, and that what I have experienced, and still DO experience, is reality and truth. It IS called “FAITH”, after all, right?

    • Robert F says

      As you say, oscar, it may all be a delusion, or illusion. But if it is, what wouldn’t be?

      “In the end, there aren’t many things worth wanting for the serious man, the samurai. If, in the end, the serious man is still bound by illusion, he selects the worthiest illusion, and takes a stand…” From the novel Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone.

  14. My experience pretty much parallels rick @ 8:17’s although some of the details differ. Good old Jack and Rexella (“the first lady of sacred song”) Van Impe are still laboring away on the cable channels.

    Something should be said about the perseverance of the saints, I suppose. Them what ultimately perseveres are the ones that turn out to be (or to have been) the saints and them what don’t aren’t. Them what complains might be in either camp. And aren’t we supposed to hold fast to the profession of our faith without wavering? Wavering is rather fashionable nowadays; some days I waver six times before breakfast. Rather than getting down in the mouth, though, I think we get through these times by honestly confessing our doubts and then encouraging one another to run the race with patience. It’s the patience part that is so difficult for so many. Also, I subscribe to what Pattie @ 6:34 said – I don’t have to understand it all. God knows what He is doing even if we don’t, and more people will escape Satan’s clutches.

    Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Still, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  15. Yes, the Apostles did seem to expect the return of Christ in their lifetime. To me, this is sort of an argument for the inspiration of Scriptures, because even the human authors did not completely understand it perfectly. And that should serve as a warning to us all.

    • That the inspired words they wrote were wrong is proof that their words were inspired??

      • Um, no. The inspired words never said Jesus would return in their lifetime. I very clearly said that they did not understand correctly everything He said. Neither do we today. And I also never said anything about “proof.” I don’t believe mystical claims of the supernatural are within the realm of proofs, though they can be reasoned with, to a limited extent. The point is that if the apostles themselves misunderstood these words, when they were the ones who actually recorded them, we must consider the possibility that these were not quite their own words.

        Kind of like how the apostles failed to edit their miserable and embarrassing screw-ups from the Gospel narratives, only, this particular one is after the book of Acts.

        • I disagree. Paul’s words like those in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 assume the parousia in his and/or the original readers’ lifetimes.

          Once you see this mindset of the NT authors, you can’t unsee it.

          • Key word “assume.” The passage doesn’t teach that they certainly were going to be alive, it is teaching something else entirely, from the perspective of that wrong assumption. Just as the Apostles had many wrong assumptions prior to the death and resurrection of Christ about what he would be doing and when. Is it any surprise that our their (and our) agenda did not perfectly align with God’s after the resurrection and Pentecost either? I think this assumption is the kind of flaw that we should expect to find in a book that was divinely inspired through the authorship of finite men.

          • Additionally, nobody claims that the “mindset” of the NT authors was divinely inspired.

          • If what they wrote was wrong, and what they wrote was what they believed, then what they taught and believed was wrong. So how and why are we to regard such things as inspired and profitable for doctrine and teaching?

            I fail to understand your logic.

          • What Paul wrote was not wrong. The verse does not explicitly claim that Christ will return during their lifetime, it is simply written from the perspective of that assumption. The text does not teach that Christ is certainly returning within the life of the author. It does betray that the author is assuming this. Not every assumption we can infer about the author from the text is the divinely inspired message of the text. If the text said something like “Christ IS returning before many of us die,” then that would be a different matter. In fact, this particular example is a reflection of a popular early interpretation of Christ’s saying that some there would not taste death before His return. Just because they believed Christ meant it that way doesn’t mean they were correct, as the church learned soon enough. And just because this text reflects that wrong understanding of Christ doesn’t mean that the text proclaims this assumption as a propositional truth, nor that the author never came to embrace a different assumption. If the interpretation of this passage you propose (which is a very flat, literal reading, similar to fundamentalism, but unfair to the nature and genre of the text imo) is the only one true way to understand its message, how then did the Christian faith survive the first century? “Well I guess Paul and Jesus both lied to us (or them actually, since the last one just died). Let’s find a different religion.” This is also a great example of how the Bible can be simultaneously the product of divine inspiration and human agency, and a kind of “err” that makes the defense of a Chicago statement inerrancy an exercise in futility, or best, die the death of 1000 qualifications.

            Another angle you may need to consider is that the “we” refers to an “us,” and the “us” in this passage is members of the body of Christ. When Paul says “we who are alive,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he believed he personally would be included in those who did not die. At some point Paul knew he was giving his life for the faith. So if Paul meant the “we” in a sense that was not immediately personally inclusive, then we have to accept that it could refer to any members of the group, at any time. A linguistic equivalent of “we” is “those of us.” Also, key word “are” still alive. If Paul meant to assert that he, himself, is certainly a member of this group, wouldn’t he say “we who will be alive?”

          • A fairly literal translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that/because himself the lord with (en) a-command, with (en) a-voice of-an-archangel and with (en) a-trumpet-[call] of-God, will-descend from heaven, and the dead-ones in (en) Christ will-rise first, 17 then we the living the remaining-[ones] together with them will-be-seized with (en) clouds unto (eis) a-meeting of-the lord unto (eis) air; and thus always with lord we-will-be.

        • If they got their understanding on this issue wrong, why should we trust their understanding on anything else?!

          (just twisting the inerrant YEC mindset a round a bit, lol)

          • One need not necessarily throw out the baby with the bath water, but the water or even the baby might definitely need to be changed.

          • Well, right, this is the argument many make, and why ultimately a fundamentalist view of the scriptures is actually destructive to faith. It sets up too many lynchpins that are too easily pulled. We have to consider that the Apostle’s understanding of the words they actually wrote may not have always been the correct interpretation. Any infallible interpreter of the sacred Scriptures is highly suspect in my book, anyways. Not everything God says or does makes sense to us, and we shouldn’t expect it to, even if we do proceed with faith seeking understanding.

          • So the Scriptures are all potentially unreliable and untrustworthy, not simply our understanding of them.

            As I said, I do not understand your logic.

          • So the Scriptures are all potentially unreliable and untrustworthy, not simply our understanding of them.

            I most certainly said, and clearly, that our understanding of the Scriptures is is not reliable, not the Scriptures themselves. I have no idea how you are missing that. Read my last comment more carefully.

          • I’ve read your comments and still think they’re not seeing the elephant in the room as being an elephant.

          • Then you’ve done a terrific job explaining your point. I have no trouble accepting that the NT authors expected Christ to return in their lifetime. I don’t see how that is a problem.

  16. For me the most vexing question is related to this. If we in the Church are the redeemed, living new life under the auspices of the Holy Spirit, then why has the Church not been a better witness during its history? Why is our record so checkered and dysfunctional? Have we been much better than OT Israel about being a light to the nations?

    Something has seemed to not be working right, on a pretty large scale, over the centuries.

    • Yes, that is an important facet of my question. If Christ’s coming and work was so decisive, if the Spirit’s descent so indicative of the hope of transformation, if Jesus has indeed been exalted over all powers and given as Lord to the church with all things under his feet, then who would have expected such a long and tawdry history for the church in the world?

    • One the things I find a bit troubling is that we this long, sordid, mucky history of Israel’s dealing with God in the Old Testament. Then, as N.T. Wright likes to a point out, God proves faithful by fixing the whole mess by finally sending Someone who finally does what Israel was supposed to have been doing all along.

      Then the Apostles found the church, and the Church much sets about acting exactly like Israel all over again. It would be better to have a clearer upward trajectory after Christ, would it not? You know, Christ>Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses?

      That said, I do agree substantially with Rick’s reflection (above) – I agree that the Kingdom is a present reality, and that it may be more a reality over time. There’s no steady or linear upward trek, where we get better and better. It’s all fits and starts, and discoveries and reversals. But good things do happen. People do create.

    • This is a place where I find Robert Capon’s explication of the parables helpful. He absolutely insists on both the hiddenness and the catholicity of the kingdom of God. And those qualities are essentially eschatological in nature.

      The kingdom seems to underlie all reality, working beneath the surface, but permeating everything (yeast). It also seems to allow evil to grow right alongside good (wheat and tares). Capon applies these concepts not only to world events, but also to our own hearts. So why are we not better? Why has the kingdom not conquered more territory? Who is to say that it hasn’t?

  17. Wayne Essel says

    I wonder if the reason for the delay is that the speed of spiritual evolution is slow. It is possible to go much faster. But we go at the speed we go. After all, our Father is extremely patient and gracious. Wherever you go, there you are… (I heard that one somewhere.)

    We pray in the Lord’s prayer “Thy kingdom come”. As with most prayer, the most likely result is to align ourselves with the request about which we pray. Yes there are miracles. More likely there is constant, consistent work. So when we pray “Thy kingdom come” we are praying to be aligned with the effort to make that happen. We pray to love more, to extend grace more, to forgive more… Love will do more than theological rigor.

    I believe that It will take however long it takes to get most if not all of us in alignment with the spiritual state that brings about the kingdom.

  18. Christiane says

    we ARE in a ‘process’ but we cannot see the over-view and that frustrates us because we are people who live in modern times with half-hour solutions and answers that come quickly and convenient to mundane cares . . .

    that ‘process’ ?
    call it an ‘extended’ Advent if you will . . . a period of waiting, but we are not ‘static’ in our waiting . . . something IS happening in our world that makes a difference, but it is not so ‘celebrated’ in the media as is the dark things, no

    looking at this Advent video, and seeing in it the longing of a people for the Coming of their Lord but this time around, they’re ‘longing’ actively in a way that mirrors the prayer ‘Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done . . . ‘ and there is peace and trust within them and healing in their hands, and His Presence is felt in the ways of their caring:

    the ‘gospel’ is being ‘preached’, but not so much on street corners or in pulpits . . .
    the doctors and the nurses and the teachers and the workers who preach Christ do so VIBRANTLY
    and their OWN hope then becomes the hope of those who before had little reason to believe . . .

    we have no idea how powerful even ONE act of kindness in His Name is

  19. kerokline says

    I tend to believe in the Steven Pinker “The Better Angels of Our Nature” style direction – that the world is getting better, day by day, not worse. That the Kingdom is within and among us, not something coming soon. I mean, how else do I process the real gains that the world as a whole has made?

    There are social ones, such as the growing reduction in slavery, the growing equality of women, the growing respect for other nations / races / creeds. To deny that the world is a better place now than any time in history before us is to simply misread history. Societal Improvement has been the trend since… well, shortly after Christ’s time.

    Technological gains are easily apparent. What about philosophical? At the time of Jesus, the “golden rule” was radical – absurd even. Yet today, it’s hard to find a person alive who doesn’t agree with the basic premise. There are atheist philosophers arguing that compassion is the basis of morality. And they are being heralded as too conservative, as if there were a more radically kind position to take! Imagine that coming from Babylon or Rome!

    Christianity may be losing the culture wars. Christ won them long ago.

  20. A thousand years is as one day to God. So perhaps from His perspective it’s only been a couple of days. If the universe is a billion years (or more) old, then what is 2,000 within the whole scheme of things. Am I being to simplistic?

    • It is too simplistic an answer for me right now, given the expectations raised by my current understanding of the NT.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > A thousand years is as one day to God.

      Rubbish. I am quite certain the mind which conceived the universe can understand a-24-hour-period, if he did conceive the universe he clearly can also intellectually grasp both a millennium and a picosecond, in any given space a whole lot actually happens in a picosecond.

      If he meant “some inconceivable amount of time” he could have just said that, or why mention a specific period at all unless it meant something… specific. The interpretation is either wrong – and we are missing the point – or it is mostly contextual to the time it was written, the text is simply wrong, or it is deceptive; choose one.

  21. How could the Jews have been so stupid as not to recognize the Messiah when he finally appeared? Not only then but to this day, two thousand years later? Answer probably a combination of ignorance, intellectual groping in the dark, and the natural animal inheritance of our egos that seeks comfort, security, and dominance. Same true now for all of us, except that I believe our collective spiritual evolution is higher today, primarily because of Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

    To me this a cautionary tale. I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of Jesus’ compatriots by not recognizing a pivotal event because it isn’t happening according to the way popular opinion or top religious leaders say it should. I try to stay open. What would surprise me most is if Jesus appeared fluttering down out of the sky wrapped in a bedsheet.

    I am fairly convinced that we are at the end of this age, just as Jesus was born near the end of the previous one. These ages seem to last something like two thousand years and merge one into another. What is coming I don’t know, tho I have informed speculation that may well be wrong. I do expect it in my lifetime on Earth which realistically might be another fifteen years, twenty at the outside. Hopefully sooner. I expect it to be more of an individual spiritual transformation than an outward imposed societal change, tho it might also involve catastrophic world events and the end of life as we know it. I dunno, I’m waiting to find out. But I think the beginnings may well be happening right now as we speak. And I don’t want to miss it.

    As to the “gap”, in my view one of the biggest obstacles to understanding is the academic consensus that much of the New Testament was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. I am of the opinion that most, if not all, of the New Testament was written ahead of this event, tho possibly edited some later. And if the destruction of the Jewish Temple was not a sign that one age was finished and a new one begun, I don’t know what could have said it more plainly. Looking back, it changed the world and probably made the Christian Church Age possible to survive. The New Testament reads entirely differently if you consider it written before 70 AD.

    But if the destruction of the Temple fulfills much of what Christian folks were waiting for, that doesn’t mean that there were not further events to come, especially at the end of this age, which many feel is upon us now. It doesn’t mean that the New Testament writers had a clear understanding of things to come. And it doesn’t mean that one age noticeably ends and the next begins at one moment in time, tho one event might best demonstrate the shift. I believe the moment of change was when Jesus exhaled his last breath, but that was not noticeable in the way that the destruction of a World Wonder was. I find this all most fascinating and glad to be alive at this time. Kick out the jams! Come Lord Jesus!!!

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

      I strongly disagree with your first paragraph, not only because I resent the judgmental tone, but because it fails to come to terms with one very simple fact: Jesus didn’t (and doesn’t) look a thing like the Messiah is/was supposed to look like. He is/was a reinterpretation of Jewish expectations. Your statement is also theologically poor. Paul was a very educated Jew, and he only converted after a supernatural experience. He was no dummy. But his conversion required supernatural intervention. So perhaps check your privilege, sir.

      • +1

        As I like to say, “we moved the goalposts” as Christians when we redefined Messiahship to accord with Jesus of Nazareth. The reason we did so is due to the HIGHLY non-Jewish concept of the Incarnation. The Incarnation swamps prior expectations about the Messiah: we had no choice, so to speak.

        If Jews cling (to the extent they still actually do) to the traditional expectation of the Messiah, it’s because they’re just good Jews. That’s why whenever Jews convert to Christianity, they cease to be regarded as Jews by other Jews. It’s not so much that they’re embracing “the wrong” Messiah — lots of Jews have embraced lots of Messiahs over the centuries — but rather it’s that they’re embracing the Incarnation and so stepping firmly outside of Judaism.

      • Ah, then if you don’t consider the second destruction of the Temple as God’s judgement, you probably don’t the first one either. It brought Jesus to tears. I would hope that the whole point to my first paragraph was that Jesus did NOT look or act the way popular sentiment or intelligent, educated Jews thought he would, thus they could not bend their minds to the reality. Not because the Jews were particularly stupid, but because they were human, as are we, and quite capable of repeating the same awful mistake if not very careful. I’ll give my privilege a check, Doctor, if you’ll point out where it’s located,

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          I believe I already have. And contradicting yourself does not make the first post go away.

    • Charles, it isn’t only Jews who are too stupid to recognize the Messiah. It’s Roman Catholics too. All Catholics.

      Pretty much anybody before the 16th Century Reformation.

      And Episcopalians. They’re liberal wannabe Catholics without a pope.

      The Congregationalists are no different than Unitarians. ‘Nuff said about them.

      I strongly question the faith of anyone in my Baptist church who sits on the opposite side of the aisle. What are they trying to prove? God will judge them accordingly.

      There are times when I question my wife’s faith.

      It pretty much comes down to me, and me alone. Jesus said there’d be a remnant, that “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

      I’m him.

      • Headles Unicorn Guy says

        You have just described the Ultimate Theoretical End State of Protestantism.

        And of the Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

  22. Thomas Merton struggled with this question, but from a somewhat different perspective.


  23. I remember it was many, many years ago, when my guide to Bible prophecy was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. That and his other books gave graphic pictures of H-Bombs, Cobra helicopters and a timetable which had the Rapture happening May 24, 1981. We all did the math, and that was the date. With Jesus coming back seven years later.

    The date came and went, and I was very disillusioned, much like those in 1844 with William Miller’s “Great Disappointment.” Lindsey was on TV complaining that people were calling him a false prophet because the date didn’t happen like he said in his book. Well, then, don’t make such predictions.

    But the disappointment was good for me, it caused me to really read the Bible for myself instead of the sensational books of people like Lindsey and Salem Kirban. I saw they had patched together verses from Matthew, Daniel and Revelation, etc. to make a fantastic future that would have those who made the prophecies scratching their heads.

    And it was the beginning of me scrapping all I had previously believed and rebuilding it from the bottom up. I found out the Bible is a lot saner book than those who so confidently preach these timetables and sensational scenarios.

    And yet, the prophecy preachers continue to put out their books and tapes and set up their dates and other scenarios. When the Soviet empire collapsed, it was a real setback for them. But they recovered and wrote more books. And when their prophecies proved false, they didn’t admit their mistakes, they just took their cash to the bank and wrote new books, and their track record is the same as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Armageddon, Inc, with their dates of 1874, 1914, 1918,1925,1941, 1975 and on and on.

    And yet people keep swallowing the nonsense of the prophecy preachers and making them rich by buying their books. The fiasco of Y2K was an example, and the only disaster was to the booksellers who were now stuck with all those worthless books, tapes and survival guides, good for only scrap paper now.

    Why? It is because we still long for the Lord’s return. But we need some common sense, and reading Scripture for ourselves. Denying his return is heresy, but date setting is lunacy. I think C.S. Lewis had it right. When the disciples asked about what would happened, Jesus only dismissed it, telling them they had work to do. (Acts 1:7-8) Here is what Lewis said in light of that:

    All achievements and triumphs, in so far as they are merely this-worldly achievements and triumphs, will come to nothing in the end. Most scientists here join hands with the theologians; the earth will not always be habitable. Man, though longer-lived than men, is equally mortal…Taken by themselves, these considerations might seem to invite a relaxation of our efforts for the good of posterity: but if we remember that what may be on us at any moment is not merely an End but a Judgment, they should have no such result…

    Frantic administration of panaceas to the world is certainly discouraged by the reflection that “this present” might be “the world’s last night”; sober work for the future, within the limits of ordinary morality and prudence, is not. For what comes is Judgment: happy are those whom it finds laboring in their vocations, whether they were merely going out to feed the pigs or laying good plans to deliver humanity a hundred years hence from some great evil. The curtain has indeed now fallen. Those pigs will never in fact be fed, the great campaign against White Slavery or Governmental Tyranny will never in fact proceed to victory. No matter; you were at your post when the Inspection came.
    Lewis, The World’s Last Night

    • I long ago rejected the lunacy, but I have at times come close to accepting the heresy. What does a Christianity that does not expect or believe in Christ’s return (at least not in an Acts 1:11 or Revelation sense) look like?

      • Vega Magnus says

        It looks like normal life. We go about our normal existences, doing the best we can, and then we’ll die and see whatever the afterlife has to hold for ourselves. I’m honestly quite done with end-times speculation. If whatever is going to happen happens during my lifetime, well, that will be interesting. If not, it won’t be important.

        • And so we all continue to proclaim the mystery of the faith in the time-honored liturgies:

          Christ has died.
          Christ has risen.
          Christ will come again.

          I hope I got that right.

          • Robert F says

            Christ has died.
            Christ is risen.
            Christ will come again.

          • But in my liturgy-less moments I know only this:

            “The village has disappeared in the evening mist
            And the path is hard to follow.
            Walking through the pines,
            I return to my lonely hut.” Ryokan

  24. Dana Ames says

    The “when” question has not bothered me much, especially after encountering ideas like Perriman’s that are plausible within the 1st Century Jewish context. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the Landlord talks about “the harvest” but says nothing further about it. The “why/why not” question about things being better has actually bothered me. Again, the Landlord doesn’t tell the servants to go after the enemy who has sowed the bad seed; where it has come from doesn’t seem to bother him very much. He seems to be most concerned about which plants will ultimately end up being able to do what they were meant to do, as in the good seed producing something that is able to nourish/give life.

    Fr Stephen Freeman has written some articles on this sort of thing lately, that have caused some disorientation for me. He started with “We Will Not Make the World a Better Place,” then wrote “Tolkien’s Long Defeat,” and “The Long Defeat of the Cross.” I think I have felt disoriented because, after experiencing an immense opening up of what the Cross and Resurrection mean, and especially the Resurrection, and grokking on (what little I have understood about) how those extend to the cosmos, I have retained the notion that somehow “we can make things better” – especially with encouragement from Wright that we actually can do good things from good motives as things that manifest the Kingdom. I think that is true and doesn’t at its deepest contradict Fr Stephen. But I am definitely invested in the notion of “progress” even viz. the Kingdom of God – can’t help it being born when I was, and into the culture I am in. That’s not to say we should not be doing good – only (!) that my expectations need to be altered in light of that cosmic nature of things that appeals so much to me, and seems much more Real than any other lens through which I look at things. I am really happy that Fr Stephen finished off with “The Church is the Cross Through History.” These all gave me lots to ponder, and the last one some solid hope. Also helped me understand the shadows in LOTR that made me uncomfortable when I read it…

    We totally forget that (the vast majority of) God’s work is *hidden* – how could we understand it, even if we were to apprehend it all? One of the things we have seen, though, is that it has been Christian sensibilities that have paved the way for all the social goods we hold up as truly good – hospitals, care for orphans and other needy people, abolition of slavery, etc. – whether one is a Christian or not. Not that some of this did not exist before or outside Christianity, but Christians do believe we should be doing good things that make evident our love for others, without regard to whether we will be honored for such deeds – the patronage system did/does not apply.

    Wheat and tares.

    I need to do what we know I should do, engage things according to conscience, and according to the understanding of what is good that has been revealed to us in Christ, out of love, not coercion, and… trust God.

    I also found this link someone left in Fr Stephen’s comments to be exceedingly helpful:

    Once again, it isn’t about morality – it’s much deeper and bigger than that.


  25. For many years I have been seriously considering converting to the RCC primarily due to the issue of authority. Questions like these with the multitude of possible answers, from a Protestant perspective, leave me feeling pretty near despondent. I mean, is this really how God operates? No absolute answer even to a question as fundamental as “will Christ return”? This makes me want to run straight “home to Rome” with arms wide open!

  26. The paradox is that we have to live as though He is returning today but still make plans for tomorrow. But I did not always see it this way.

    As a young Evangelical in a movement which was hyper-dispensationalist we lived as though the rapture would take place any minute (this is not a hyperbole, it really was that way). Many dropped out of college and took on part-time work so as to able to reap as many souls as possible before we would be “caught up” with Christ. The reasoning was that it was a waste of time to get a degree if you would never be able to use it.

    That was 40 years ago, and to that I say, “good riddance!” But even now when I tell some people that dispensationalism is bad eschatology they look at me as though I were a heretic who had just said that the Holy Trinity is a myth. I’ve even been called an anti-Semite on an least one occasion that I remember for throwing Israel under the bus. That, BTW, is not true; I am still a supporter of Israel but am no longer a “Christian Zionist.”

    I have come to conclude that this dispensationalist notion of an assured imminent return, rapture, seven-year tribulation, Armageddon, second coming, millennium, judgment day, and installation of New Jerusalem (exactly 1.5 M miles each dimension) and then eternity in a private mansion somewhere inside that monolith is about as silly as the story of The Three Little Pigs. At least the latter one has a good moral lesson of delayed gratification and good work ethic; that’s way more than I can say about the former “story.”

    And as I’m fixin’ to turn 64 I am way more elated at the prospect of seeing and being with my God as a result of my own passing than by way of eschatological speculation. So, Christ has tarried for 2,000 years and may tarry another 2,000 years. Perhaps so. But what does it matter? For me the end is more like 20-30 years away (years less if I read imonk on my smart phone while driving–or perhaps in just a few days if I’m stupid enough to reply while behind the wheel).

    • He Needed says

      re: As a young Evangelical in a movement which was hyper-dispensationalist we lived as though the rapture would take place any minute (this is not a hyperbole, it really was that way). Many dropped out of college and took on part-time work so as to able to reap as many souls as possible before we would be “caught up” with Christ. The reasoning was that it was a waste of time to get a degree if you would never be able to use it.


      And I heard that I felt guilty asking if I was selfish because I hoped to be married and have children…
      But hey, that’s not theology or doctrine related to the big question, … or is it?!!

      • Many delayed marriage back then. But even the most devout young saint has to deal with raging hormones. “Better to marry than to burn,” eh?

        • Headles Unicorn Guy says

          Or the opposite. Can’t remember which blog I read it on, but one claimed that during the 88 Reasons Rapture Scare of 1988, the entire student body of a local Bible College all got married to beat the predicted date. (Didn’t say if they married en masse like the Moonies.) He wondered how many of those marriages lasted.

          Struck me as the Rapture Ready version of “I Don’t Wanna Die A Virgin!” with much the same results.

      • Headles Unicorn Guy says

        re: As a young Evangelical in a movement which was hyper-dispensationalist we lived as though the rapture would take place any minute (this is not a hyperbole, it really was that way).

        He’s NOT exaggerating.

        Many dropped out of college and took on part-time work so as to able to reap as many souls as possible before we would be “caught up” with Christ.

        Only took part-time work?

        I remember encountering a few who didn’t work at all because a job would have taken time away from Soul-Winning and We Didn’t Have Much Time Left. (“WORK! FOR THE NIGHT IS COMING…”)

        Don’t know how they floated with no visible means of support, but they did.

    • Oh, on my list in the next-to-the-last paragraph, between “seven-year tribulation” and “Armageddon” I left out the chief meany of all time–the antichrist, the beast, the man of lawlessness, Mr. 666. According to the “Left Behind” series he is from Romania. I had hoped he would be a Cuban of Italian ancestry and closely related to Fidel Castro.

      • Been running into this a lot more lately, people freaking out about that number and stuff…although the more wise people seem to make a running joke about the number of the beast showing up.

        A few months back I ordered exactly the right amount of stuff at McDonalds to get $6.66 to show up as the total. Wish I had written down what I got so I use it more often on people…

        • Bet you could have retired or paid off the mortgage by selling that receipt on eBay.

          • Is there a market for appearances of Satan or the antichrist? Like, if he shows up in my toast, can I sell it?

            slightly off topic, but at the moment enjoy a song called Flying Spaghetti Monster, techno something or other…kind fits my irreverent mood at the moment, lol.

          • Yes, I’m feeling most irreverent myself.

            I will at times check the toast and tortillas for VIP images; so far nothing. I guess I will have to keep making mortgage payments and delay retirement.

            On a related note, I read somewhere that someone invented a toaster that can toast images on a slice of bread. I would imagine that you plug in you flash drive into the thing (or wi fi or bluetooth), pick your picture, and have it come out as the image on the toast. Not sure if it duplexes or not. Color is out, I suppose, and the shades of toast would be limited to four bits at best (16 shades of brown). And I guess it would only work on white bread.

            It was bound to happen. That will seriously impact the miracles market, eh? And just when the economy was showing some recovery! Surely Mr. 666 is behind this diabolical scheme.

          • there’s a Cylon toast. No pun intended.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          A few months back I ordered exactly the right amount of stuff at McDonalds to get $6.66 to show up as the total. Wish I had written down what I got so I use it more often on people…

          Never mind Mickey Dee’s, try that sometime at a CHRISTIAN Bookstore!

          Anywhere you go
          See three Sixes in a row:

        • Danielle says

          I used to work long hours as a cashier. It’s a lot of fun to watch what people will do when they get 6.66 on a receipt. This happens fairly often, if you ring up lots of small items.

          A lot of customers will buy candy to change the total, another subset will chuckle, and some won’t notice.

          7.77 pleases people, too.

          • Yep, I come from Topeka, Kansas, whose zip code begins with 666. So maybe he’s HERE! 😛

          • No he’s a little closer to Kansas City near the IHOP…

          • Danielle says

            The anti-Christ would be from the exact center of the country.

            Think about it. The US is the center of the world. Kansas is the center of the US.

            We need to know which house is at the exact center of Kansas.

          • Robert F says

            I bet he eats at the IHOP.

          • Here’s grist for the prophecy preacher mill. It is well known that the license plates on all public transportation vehicles in Jerusalem begin with the number 666. They go wild over that!

          • Headles Unicorn Guy says

            Think about it. The US is the center of the world. Kansas is the center of the US.

            We need to know which house is at the exact center of Kansas.

            The one in Courage the Cowardly Dog, of course.


  27. I wonder if our impatience is a reflection of our loss of the truth Jesus announced the in-breaking of the Kingdom, and while that will be fully realized in time, it is now being realized in each moment in every event. Are we not putting our human spin on the renewal of all things by assuming we can have that and the right to enjoy life on our own terms in such times?

  28. I do think there was an expectation during the apostolic age and in every age since then that Christ would return soon. The reason Scriptures reveal that Christ is returning is so that Christians can prepare themselves to meet Him.

    The fact that some Biblical authors lived under an expectation of Christ’s immanent return shouldn’t bother us, because that is the whole point of why Christ promised that he would return – as motivation for His followers remain spiritually vigilant. We should all strive to live in a state of expectation so that we can prepare our souls to meet the Lord.

  29. Robert F says

    “There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that he is the coming Son of Man, lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still. That is His victory and His reign.”

    “He comes as the One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our times. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings, which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

    Maybe Schweitzer got it right; maybe that’s all there ever was, or will be, to it.

  30. Radagast says

    I think PureHeart was a bot….

  31. One author I was reading recently mentioned (almost as an offhand comment) that the tension between the imminence of the day of the Lord and the continuance of human history was something that Jews had been struggling with for centuries, both in the Old Testament and in literature contemporary to the NT. It is an interesting thing to think about.

    • The line I might take is that while many of the biblical writers may have expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, as part of the Jewish apocalyptic tradition they would have also been prepared for the possibility that he wouldn’t, and there are hints in this direction in the NT as well. But I’m just thinking tentatively right now.

      • One more thing – I think preterism is helpful for some passages, but I’m skeptical of it as a comprehensive interpretive scheme.

  32. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Mathew 10:23

    One of the reasons I no longer believe.

    • Yes, that is one of those statements where we seem to have even Jesus seeming to believe that he would return in his immediate followers’ lifetimes.

      • a little drab will dew yew says

        I think ya’ll hear it weird, no offense.
        wow, just… wow.

        so goes it for your blue prints for a “shape”
        love your enemies, or flee…
        um… go door to door, or…if there is no welcome, no peace?
        make every effort to keep the peace.

        with who?

        um… keep up a good reputation so that no one has anything against you.
        and… they’ll hate you?

        a kiss from an enemy or a friend’s clanging sounding warning?

  33. mark@12:40 posted C S Lewis’s quote about being engaged in our duties when Jesus returns. I hope that when Christ returns I am working at what I should. When I was a lad, my Dad showed me how to stack cleaned bricks in stable easily counted stacks of 100. He then left me to go somewhere on other business. I knew he would come back and look at my work. I wasted a lot of time and worry stopping work to go see if I could see him coming back.
    I must confess that in a movie (Johnny English with Rowan Atkins?) a sign warned “Jesus is Coming. Look Busy”.
    I want to actually be busy.

  34. Mike, a fascinating discussion. But to clarify, you say, “But that still leaves a large, unexplained (unforeseen?) gap in history.” But that is only true if we assume that the end-of-the-world is what scripture or Christianity is all about. I don’t think that there is an unexplained or unforeseen gap. The early church had to endure suffering as they waited longer than they would have liked for God to vindicate their step of faith, whether by judging Israel or by overthrowing the gods of Greek-Roman world. They had to wait a long time for the age to come. But that is not the big picture. The big picture is that God has retained a people for his own possession in the midst of his creation, to bear consistent and faithful witness to him. That’s what we continue to do now. We are affected by history, we lurch from one crisis to another. The New Testament describes the biggest historical disruption—and redemption—in that story. But the task doesn’t change. We are God’s new creation until he is finally vindicated as Creator in the new heaven and new earth. We may yearn for that, but scripture teaches us that it is the historical situation of the people of God that really matters. We are much too fixated on the end-times.