Eschatology probably sounds like herpetology, ornithology, and entomology to most people; however, unlike the study of bugs, birds, or reptiles (all of which are useful endeavors), eschatology (the field of theological study concerned with death, judgement, and the destiny of humankind) should be a concern of every Christian.
Our thinking leads to our doing, and our doing often has dire and lasting consequences on both our lives and the lives of those around us. Where we are headed matters. While not every person knows the word eschatology, every person operates out of one.
Those who think this world is all there is and follow the false motto “Let us eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” live up to their eschatology. Sadly, most believers, myself included, do not live up to our true eschatology.
Underneath nearly every hot-button topic (and it seems like our current society is a whole fuse box full of them), are matters of eschatology. My heart has been sunk down with most of American society over the latest in a laundry list of school shootings. The depression did not surprise me this week, the anger I found brewing in my heart did. As I listened to and engaged in conversations around the topic of gun control, I consistently heard comments from believers in Christ that betrayed a warped eschatology.
Already/ Not Yet
As believers, we live in the already/ not yet kingdom. God has inaugurated (or begun) the kingdom of God, but it is not yet consummated (completed; whole). Thus, we have the foretaste of the justice and mercy which met at the Cross of Christ, but we do not yet live in a world where evil is eradicated (Romans 8:18-25). When we get the timetable confused, we will see the effects of such thinking in our patterns of living.
If we have an over-realized eschatology, we begin to demand that the realities of the kingdom of God happen too early. We get angry and impatient with God for not fixing things soon enough or we wrongly think that we can achieve a utopian reality apart from the full presence of Christ. If we have an under-realized eschatology, we settle for less than God intends for us in the here and now. Rather than step in to move this present reality closer to the coming kingdom reality, we are content to sit and wait.
In the gun control debates, I hear some believer (at time, myself included) slipping into an over-realized eschatology. We focus on the Already and forget the Not Yet. We erroneously and often insidiously begin to sounds like the world which expects earthly systems and realities to fix our brokenness. Creation cannot fix creation. You cannot fix a system with the same thing that broke it. Humanity trusting humanity and its designs shattered shalom, thus, we are fools to look to humanity to fix what it broke.We should fight for gun control, protest, sign petitions, and increase awareness, but we cannot put our hope in lawmakers or political systems. We should fight like it depends on us, but pray and live remembering that it depends on Christ, our ultimate and lasting hope.
On the other hand, I have heard believers asking Jesus to just come back. While I, too, long to see Jesus return, as all believers rightly should, I fear that sometimes this is an excuse to pray and wait. There is work to be done here and now that matters to God; to disbelieve this reality or hyper-spiritualize all of life is to live out an under-realized eschatology. We put too much emphasis on the Not Yet and forget to live as those who are pulling heavenly realities into the Already. Yes, we want Jesus to come back, but our todays and tomorrows matter. How we invest our times, talents, and treasures matters. How we use our platforms to advocate for the least of these matters. It shows off the nature of God and fills a sin-stinking globe with the aroma of Christ. We cannot rightly fold our hands to pray and not be willing to pick up a sign or a pen or a shovel to work towards God’s values right now.
Holding Both as He Holds Us
We don’t like tensions. We don’t like both/ ands. We like control and clarity, which are much easier to achieve when we truncate the mysteries of God into neatly foldable either/ors. But we must fight to hold the already and the not yet of the kingdom of God.
In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, we must “go with God to God.” We must walk by the Spirit, rightly divide the Word of truth and actively living out the principles we have seen lived out by our Christ here and now. With God, as His aroma and ambassadors on this earth, we walk to the day when we will be with God and the kingdom will be consummated.