Christian hope is not a casual hope for “your best life now”. It is not hope to get a parking spot or a better job. That is something else. I hope you get that better job. Really. We don’t hope that Jesus will save us from our sins either. He already did that. Our hope is in resurrection. Resurrection only follows death.
Be not affrighted! (Mark 16:6-8)
There is nothing pretty about Christian hope. Whatever Christian hope is, it begins in terror and utter disorientation in the face of the collapse of all that is familiar and well known.
James Alison, Raising Abel, p.161
Michael Spencer passed away today. This is a sad, sad moment for me, though it’s been stretched out for several months now. Everyone saw it coming.
Michael really was unique. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY had quite the mix of humility, bite, and street cred to help others constructively work through the mess that is American evangelical Christianity.
Lots of folks had bigger brains than Michael, but they also had too many dogs in the fight to be of much help to those of us lost in the wilderness.
Some folks are kind and humble too, but too much so. They are too forgettable, too meaningless.
Very, very few people can write as well.
There are some young folks with really good ideas, but they can’t bring all the wisdom and life experience to the table like the iMonk could.
I don’t feel like there is anyone that can fill the void he has left. He said his book (who knew it would be his last hurrah!) was about 80% new material. I’m glad. Come September we’ll see his ghost wander back on earth for a time. Lord knows I’ll see him again when it’s all over.
I haven’t had death touch me very close, ever really. I’ve only been to a couple funerals, and they were never for anyone that close. I never met Michael, though we corresponded by email several times. He lives on the other side of the world as far as I’m concerned. I can tell though, just in the emotions lurking now, that when someone really close to me DOES die, I am NOT going to take it very well, at least for a little well. I’m too damn rooted in this earth. Oh well. In some ways, that’s probably a good thing.
In furthering is thesis that violence does not come (directly at least) from God, he takes a look at a couple of Jesus’s parables.
Concerning the parable of the talents, notice how the master judges the wicked servant at the end:
Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, though wicked servant… (Luke19:22)
The wicked servant is cowering in the corner, asking to be smacked. And he is. Just as he said he would.
And that is exactly what happens. Once again it is the subject’s imagination of his master that is absolutely determinant of his behavior. One who imagines this master as free, audacious, generous, and so on, takes risks, and himself enters into a fruitfulness that is ever richer and more effervescently creative; while one whose imagination is bound by the supposed hardness of the master lives in function of that binding of the imagination, and remains tied, hand and foot, in a continuous, and maybe even an eternal, frustration.
-James Alison, Raising Abel, p.154
Also, in the parable about the vineyard and the wicked owners who finally kill the owner’s son: Notice that it is the CROWD (not Jesus) who answers that at the end the owner will come back and kick the wicked servants out of the vineyard. We assume they are right because that’s what WE would do. But Jesus doesn’t say that. What, in fact, does the owner do? The son says “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” as they are murdering him. Does the owner (God) come back in the next chapter and kick the servants (us) out? No! The Son rises from the dead and redeems us – reconciling us to God despite our wickedness.
People project the image of their earthly father onto God all the time. In some ways it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The thing is, God is not defined by who we imagine him to be. We cannot project our own violence and rivalry on to him. Yet imagining him properly plays a big part in how we live our own lives.
Contrasting the language of the future (and end times) in the later apostolic writings, Alison notes an evolution in the language used to describe how we should live until Jesus comes back. In 1 Corinthians, we see faith, hope and love. Elsewhere we see lots of hope. Later, we see less “hope” and more “patience”.
What we perceive in the apostolic witness is something a little different. As there develops the way in which the apocalyptic imagination is subverted from within, we see ever less insistence on hope and ever more on patience, so that in the letter to Titus we read the following:
Tell the elders to be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. (Tit. 2:2)
That is to say, where Paul had spoken to the Corinthians in terms of faith, hope, and charity, now patience replaces hope.
-James Alison, Raising Abel, p.163
Alison suggests that the apostles own understanding of the future naturally changed as Jesus didn’t come back right away, then Jerusalem fell in AD 70, then the church grew abroad, etc. The writings in the new testament may be inspired scripture, but they were still written by human beings that didn’t know everything that was going on and who changed their minds about things. They were most certain of the resurrection. Today, we are still changing our ideas. Dispensationalism (that inspires all the Left Behind-esque fiction) is, I think highly influenced by advanced in technology in the past 100 years. Can you really imagine any of the scenarios being pushed lately if we didn’t have:
1. Instant worldwide communication
2. Nuclear weapons
3. “mark of the beast” style digital ID tags
neither could the apostles. Depending on your context, you can do about 100 different things with John’s visions in Revelation.
If we really are in it for the long haul though, perhaps our language will eventually again back away from short-term “hope” and return to long-term “patience”.