Saturday, June 05, 2010

Of gloom, doom and empty tombs

My old subheading used to be quite a mouthful:
A blog - always room for one more - devoted to thinking things through to the end. But not in a gloomy, doomy, or weird mushroomy kind of way, but in the roomy & quietly empty tomby kind of way that the God & Father of Jesus seems to work.
I changed it to make it snappier, but also to highlight a slight shift in focus here. The old description focused on "thinking things through to the end", i.e. on eschatology, the Christian doctrine of the 'last things' and of God's promised future in Christ. I then distinguished what I see as a properly Christian hope, based on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead ("empty tomb"), from dark apocalyptic scenarios of destruction ("gloomy and doomy" eschatologies) as well as from unfounded speculation and wild conjecture ("weird mushroomy" eschatology). I have long had in my profile that one of my nemeses is "escapist eschatologies", that is, understandings of God's promised future that lead us away from engagement with the world and our neighbour based on the misunderstanding that this present life is either irrelevant or mere preparation, and that our physical existence is a problem from which we must be liberated. In short, I wanted to distinguish Christian hope for the redemption of the world from sub-Christian hope for redemption from the world.

I still hold to all that, but the emphasis has shifted.

Reflecting the focus of my PhD work, this blog now spends more time on the ethical implications of hope based on an empty tomb. I am now writing more about eschatological ethics than ethical eschatology.

And the particular context that interests me is pursuing such ethical reflection amongst the gloom and doom of our present situation of interlocking ecological crises, which threaten the viability of life as we currently know it. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with these threats knows things are bad, and the more you look, the worse things seem: complex, intractable and menacing.

How is it possible amidst such nightmares to maintain Christian hope? One solution is to deny the darkness of the gathering gloom, or declare it irrelevant in comparison to the glorious news of a resurrected saviour. But such answers are shallow and ultimately irrelevant because they are once more escapist. Good theology leads us back into our situation to see it afresh, not off into comforting timeless truths. Unless we can face the shadows with honesty and integrity (which will include grief and lamentation as ways of groaning in hope), then I suspect that our theology might not be walking the way of the cross. Only a theology that sits with those in darkness can hope for the coming dawn.


Anonymous said...

What if questions re the "empty tomb" are are essentially meaningless, or do not refer to anything real.

And what if the entire Christian story/narrative is a fabrication, created by the institutional church as a propaganda tool to consolidate its worldly power,and as a means for executing "heretics", particularly those of a gnostic or mystical persuasion.

byron smith said...

What if questions re the "empty tomb" are are essentially meaningless, or do not refer to anything real.
Then we are of all people most to be pitied.

Historical questions are of great importance for Christianity. No resurrection means no Christian good news. However, the critique you link to doesn't seem to offer anything that particularly worries me. After dismissing the New Testament evidence for Jesus and questioning whether we can really know anything, it goes on to make quite sweeping claims about his identity, teaching and mission. These claims largely remove Jesus from his Jewish context.

The specific arguments made about Jesus' resurrection are well-worn paths with significant problems. I am happy to discuss this further if you like, but I'm afraid that right now it is time for me to go to bed.

I will leave you with a question. What is it that attracts you to Adi Da and leads you to take his teaching seriously?

Donna said...

Byron this post is wonderful! Especially the last paragraph. I'll look forward to reading your thesis if there's more of this.

byron smith said...

Thanks Donna, that final paragraph is probably not a bad summary of some of the main themes I see emerging in my thesis work on the "response" side of the equation (as opposed to trying to articulate the "problem", which is what I'm mainly doing at the moment. Hence the response side could still change quite a bit once I get around to looking at it in more detail).

Jason said...

On the topic of the supposed empty tomb. This implies that Jesus's resurrection was physical. But doesn't Paul's explanation in 1Corinthians 15:35-50 refute the idea of physical resurrection more generally? Here is the text:

"But someone will say, how are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come? You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own...There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another...So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body, if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. "The first Man, Adam, became a living soul. The last Adam(Christ) became a life-giving spirit. However the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven, heavenly. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. And just as we have born the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable."

byron smith said...

Jason, I have briefly addressed that issue in the post here and then in considerably more length during the discussions that followed the post.

In short, I don't think the terms "natural" and "spiritual" are the best translation choices for Paul's Greek terms.

Jason said...

Perhaps, I don't speak ancient Greek and can only go by my translation. But what about 2Corinthians 5, and that the "Last Adam became a life giving spirit"? It seems to me to be much simpler to interpret the New Testament as a guide to using our machinery (bodies) to cultivate our spiritual natures. It would make Christianity a lot less exclusive in the sense that the majority of the worlds population isn't condemned to hell for not being born into the right religion

byron smith said...

Jason, perhaps if you read either my latest series of three posts on ecology and the gospel or my longer series on heaven and the Christian hope, you'll see why I believe that God is thoroughly committed to the good creation he has made and does not plan to abandon it, but to redeem it.

Notice in 2 Corinthians 5 that Paul's hope is not to be "unclothed" as a disembodied spirit, but for a better body. In 1 Cor 15, the Spirit/spiritual (and so the second Adam as life-giving spirit) is not contrasted with physical materiality, but with psychikos, a soul-ish body. It is not a repudiation of bodies, but of the disdain felt in many parts of the ancient world towards the body. Paul's point is that resurrection doesn't simply mean resuscitation of a corpse, but transformation.

BTW, no one is condemned to hell for being born into the wrong religion.