My eschatology keeps showing up in seemingly strange places. Recently, I’ve caught myself thinking of eschatological matters in the Magnolia section of Target. Last week, it showed up on my living room couch. I’m thankful that my eschatology is showing up in my everyday life, as it belongs there more than merely in a theological paper or ivory-tower discussion.
Even those who may be wondering what eschatology means have a lived eschatology. Eschatology, coming from two Greek words meaning study and last things, is the theological term for the study of end things. Eschatology thinks deeply about the end of an individual’s life but also the ultimate end of all earthly things through death and final judgement. Far from being bookish, boring topics to be tackled by intellectual elites, eschatological matters affect the way we as everyday people live our lives every day.
Eschatological conversations often come up when people are discussing the book of Revelation; however, they should show up far more frequently in the lives of believers. When we think eschatologically, we think with God’s ultimate aims and the end in mind. We reverse engineer our days so that our today lines with up the tomorrow upon which we are hanging all our hope.
Though the Israelites who walked by faith did not have the term eschatology, they modeled eschatological living and thinking, as seen in the book of Hebrews. Abraham, who was to be the father of many nations and who trusted God to lead him to a city he knew not, spent all his money to buy a tiny plot of land on which to bury his wife (Genesis 23). He was able to do so without giving in to despair and defeat only because he “was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 12:10).
Peter and Paul, along with the other Apostles, were constantly reminding me the early church to think with the end in mind. While they did not use the word eschatology, they swam in the concept. Peter wrote, “The end of all things is at hand: therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (1 Pet. 4:7)” Similarly, Paul constantly urged his disciples to keep their eyes on the ultimate finish line so that they might run the race with integrity and purpose (1 Tim. 6: 12; Titus 2:11-14).
Lived vs. Spoken Eschatology
I think it is important to spend time not only studying and thinking deeply about eschatology but also learning to speak of it in a winsome way to others. But, of late, I have been more concerned lately with my lived eschatology than my spoken eschatology. I am seeing gaps in the way I spend my time and my money, places where my lived eschatology looks much more like an unbeliever than a follower of Christ.
When I am in Target and I’m deeply tempted to spend money we don’t need to spend to make my house look like a Pinterest board or a Magnolia Silo, my eschatology matters. I have to remind myself that this world is not my ultimate home. I have to think about standing in the presence of God and giving an account for my choices and the way I spent my time, my talent, my tears, and my treasures. Then, and only then, do the cute BoHo-styled housewares lose their hold on my heart.
When I am sitting on my couch and listening to a believing friend share about her suffering, my lived eschatology shows up beside us. I realize that I am quick to offer tissues and to remind her of the coming day when there will be no more tears, no more sin, no more suffering. And those things are right and good, but I am quicker to offer them than to remind her that the presence of Christ is the centerpiece of that day. In the age of therapy, it is easier to offer the kingdom of God and its benefits while minimizing the King.
As D.A. Carson wrote, “The supreme hope of the church has always been the return of Jesus Christ. But in contemplating that happy prospect, we must never lose sight of the fact that the goal is to be with Christ.”
Longing & Labor in Eschatology
I am forcing myself to ask two important questions about my lived eschatology: Is there room for longing in my eschatology? Am I laboring toward my eschatology?
In the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, it is hard to live balanced amid its accompanying tensions. There will be a day when tears will be no more, but that does not mean that we grow callous or flippant about the tears we experience here and now (Rev. 21:4). God will come and make all things new, and we will never experience perfection on this side of glory (Rev. 21: 5). Yes and amen. But there is also room in our eschatology to labor as we long. There is work to be done now that matters to help alleviate some of the tears.
On the other hand, it can be easy to get so busy working to help do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven that we forget that part of our work on earth is to look and long expectantly for the return of Christ (Matt. 6:10). We can do all the “right” things, but suffering will still show up and wreak havoc in the havens we are working so hard to create.
While we labor, we long. While we long, we labor. We fight to live out our spoken eschatology until it is our lived reality. Come, Lord, Jesus. Your church longs for your appearing!