QUESTION: Why do we say we are living in eschatological time?
Is the world going to end? – Fr.James John
ANSWER: The entire world is going through an unprecedented serious crisis due to the pandemic Covid19 affecting the lives of millions without any discrimination of religion, class, gender and ethnicity. It is a leveller that reminds everyone of the equality and vulnerability of all humans. In a world which provides systems and structures for a minority of the rich and the powerful to have all privileges possible to have in this life and condemns the poor and the needy to live in abject poverty and misery, it is an eye-opener to many that a deadly virus does not discriminate anyone. However, the cruelty and brutality of injustice becomes evident even in the midst of such a tragedy affecting all nations in such a way that many poor nations and many poor in all nations suffer from the want of adequate treatment or the availability of sufficient doses of vaccine to immunize them. In spite of the discovery of various anti – Covid19 vaccines, the alarming increase in the number of deaths of those affected by the virus in some countries and the frightful forecast of a third wave of the mutated virus attacking even children create panic in the minds of the people all over the world. Are these end times? Are these warning signs that this world is coming to an end? Is this pandemic God’s way of punishing this world which has forgotten God and its dependence on God? Such questions are relevant. Can our Christian faith provide us with meaningful and reasonable answers to these nagging questions?
In the Christian theological traditions eschatological time or end times are different from the end of time or the world. While eschatological time refers to a long period of time even millenniums, the end of time refers to the final consummation of the entire creation and the final judgement of all humans. Certain fearful signs and terrible portents may give the impression that the world is going to end but it may not be so. They can be reminders to humans about their vulnerability and responsibility. When humans build those Babylonian towers of oppression and injustice by creating structures and systems designed to secure all types of power to dominate and enslave the weak and the poor making their sufferings intolerable, it is the biblical witness that God intervenes in human history in ways best known to him. We find such interventions of God in the entire salvation history. The liberation of the Hebrews from the slavery of Egypt was one of such great interventions of God followed by many such interventions through Moses and through many prophets and finally through his Son Jesus Christ. With the decisive and final intervention of God by his entry into the entire creation and human history the end times or the eschatological time has begun. It is the beginning of the end!
The Eschatological Times
The term eschatology refers to the “last things”. It is the Christian belief that with the coming of Christ into the world the eschatological time has begun. It is the beginning of the end. By the hominization of the Word or by God becoming human the entire creation is transformed. In the humanity of Christ every human being before Christ and after Christ and all contemporaneous with Christ are incorporated. Indeed, Jesus Christ is a corporate Personality or an inclusive Personality. Paul says, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). It was also believed in the early Church that Jesus was the eschatological prophet or the prophet who ushered in the final times. With the arrival of God in the world as human, the entire world and human history are moving towards its fulfillment or consummation.
The present time in which we are living is the eschatological time. It is not revealed when it is going to end. Therefore, the present time of our existence is called, the “already but not yet” situation. With the ushering in of liberation, wholeness or salvation through the hominization or incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been given the grace to enter into God’s Kingdom but the fulfilment of this Kingdom or the full expression of it, is not yet because God has not become “all in all” (I Cor 15: 28). The “already but not yet” situation is indicated in the NT. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death…” (Hebrews 2:8-10 ). The same theme is presented by John when he says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2). The Kingdom of God inaugurated through the coming of the Word as human continues in our present time and it is to be fulfilled in future as God has designed it. Therefore, it is correct to believe that we are in an, ‘already but not yet’ situation of the Kingdom. So the prayer of the Church since the time of Jesus is “May your Kingdom come” even when the Kingdom was identified with Jesus and the early Church prayed, “Maranatha” or “Come Lord” ( I Corinthians 16:22).
The ‘already and not yet’ theology is very popular among the “prosperity gospel preachers”, the Charismatic preachers and Name-it and Claim-it teachings. They all claim that the full activity of Christ is available in this eschatological time or in this ‘already but not yet’ situation. The believers are told that they can name and claim anything they wish to have and through prayer they can just take it. They can become rich and they can get healed of any sickness because at this time any type of miracle is just waiting to happen. If it does not happen, the preachers would explain it away by accusing those who prayed for it that their faith is not strong.
When people are desperate because they experience failure in all areas of their lives, namely sickness, debts, business failures, problems in relationship, lack of peace at home etc. they may wish that it would be better if the end of their lives were to come. Sometimes in desperation some may even take their own life. Not only in the life of an individual but also such thought of end of everything is wished by societies and groups. Some would even pray earnestly for the advancing of the end of time when it becomes intolerable to live in misery and misfortune for long. Such situations are often used by doomsday prophets to preach in an apocalyptic language evoking fear and trembling in the minds of their hearers for their own advantage. The rapid spread of the pandemic Covid19 has created such a situation of fear and anxiety as millions have already succumbed to death due to it and waves of it is expected to come and there seems to be no end to it in the near future. So the present day is interpreted by the doomsday prophets as the end of time.
The End of Time
It is the Christian faith that the eschatological time ends with the coming of Christ for final judgment and for the consummation of the world. It is also called the Second Coming or Parousia. In fact, there is only one coming of Christ. He has already come. Christ is present in our personal history and in the history of the world as the resurrected Christ as he has promised, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He is not gone anywhere to come back. He is there when two or three are gathered in his name. He is present in all sacraments especially in the Eucharist. He is present when the Kingdom values of love, justice, equality, reconciliation, fellowship etc. are practised. Then what it meant by the belief in Second Coming? It means as John says that when he is manifested or appears, “we shall see him as he is (3:2). Now we don’t see him as he is but at the end of time we shall see him as he is. Therefore, the New Testament warns against believing in any doomsday prophesies. “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs..…And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:6-15).
The end can come only when the good news of salvation or liberation or wholeness is proclaimed throughout the whole world. This proclamation is not just through the preaching of the word but witnessing through living the values of the Kingdom. It means the disciples need to continue to recognize and promote those humanizing values of all cultures, religions of peoples all over the world and by prophetically denouncing those dehumanizing values wherever they are found. None can force God to end the world. However, all who believe in God revealed through Jesus Christ or follow in their lives the Kingdom values which Jesus preached, continue to work for the coming of the Kingdom of God. They can cooperate with the Spirit of God for the final manifestation of the presence as they pray, “Thy Kingdom come”!
Our time and Our Task
One needs to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom but the Kingdom will not fall into the laps of humans suddenly as if future were to break into the present with apocalyptic cataclysms . One has to work for the coming of the Kingdom by contributing one’s share by living the Kingdom values and promoting them in the context of one’s life. It is said, “Do your best and leave the rest to God”. Those who pray everyday for the coming of God’s Kingdom must do their best and work in solidarity with all those are committed to create a society where there is fellowship and communion among all members of the society without any discrimination of creed, class, gender or ethnicity. Each one’s world ends with the end of her or his life. It is often compared with the eschatological time from the point of view of its unpredictable arrival. Therefore, both the eschatological time and the life-time of every individual human being are opportune time, graceful time or kairos gifted by God for humans and their world to unfold and become what God has planned for them. Both times demand alertness to see what is happening within and around oneself and discern to judge what is promoting God’s Kingdom and enhancing human life as well as alacrity in actualizing them.
Natural calamities like earthquakes, tsunamis, floods etc. can be seen as the consequence of the slow process of evolution of a planet like earth from its non-habitable stage to a relatively habitable place and a still further perfection of it. Deadly sicknesses like pandemic Covid19 and various disabilities suffered by thousands remind all humans how vulnerable humans are and how much is demanded by nature that they use their intelligence and freedom responsibly. Humans are still evolving as they are not designed as perfect but designed by God for perfection and are given the capacity to evolve as better humans in every aspect of their lives, physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually. Instead of using their freedom responsibly for their own welfare and for the well being of the society and the entire creation they often abuse it and misuse it. They pervert their minds and misuse their intelligence for creating weapons of war and even biological weapons like viruses and use them against other nations and peoples. Everything evil produced by some people affects all humans and thwarts the evolution of humans to become better humans.
The present sufferings and deaths due to the pandemic Covid19 and other viruses as well as the viruses of communalism, religious bigotry and religious fundamentalism, racism, ethnic cleansing, class struggles, gender inequalities, caste-wars and enmity among nations due to blind nationalism give the impression to a Christian believer that the world is coming to an end. It is certain that God does not end his plan for humans and their world till his plan is accomplished. He does not stop on the way. God is not a God of unfinished tasks. Although God is not bound by time,God created everything in time and has given humans freedom to become perfect with his assistance; everything will reach its fulfillment according to his designs. Every adverse situation which humans experience is an opportune moment to discover who they are and what is expected of them to do to move forward in the process of evolving themselves. Every experience, joyful and sorrowful, success and failure is not the end but the beginning of a new and better way for humanity to walk with God till God may be everything to everyone!
Jacob Parappally MSFS