Monday, July 17, 2006

No final solutions

But Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic ‘final solutions’ of this kind, for its subject is not ‘the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. Christian eschatology is the remembered hope of the raising of the crucified Christ, so it talks about beginning afresh in the deadly end.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Preface.

If you'd like the full quote, try here.
PS Ten points for the first to correctly locate this beautiful statue.
UPDATE: This post generated significant comments, and eventually, another post.


Mister Tim said...

Not that I've been anywhere near there or seen this before, but from the flags, the school bus, the K-9 on the guard's shirt and the message of the statue - maybe the UN building in New York?

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

The fence along the roadway is concreted to ensure that terrorists or assorted Republican voters don't drive a bomb-laden vehicle into the UN garage.

I think Tim is correct.

byron smith said...

Yes, ten points to Tim again. And five to OSO for that extra factoid.

And yes, Tim, well done for spotting the utopian 50s optimism that spawned the UN. Despite cynicism, it remains an important movement, even if the statue itself must remain yearning and promise.

Mister Tim said...

Utopian 50s optimism that spawned the UN? The UN was founded in 1945 - there was no optimism, coming out of the horrors of the second world war - I suspect only a yearning and fervent hope to prevent the same from ever happening again.

But you're right - I am a cynic, or maybe just a realist - and all the more so since I began working in public policy and administration. I don't see any real hope for mankind or this earth, other than a future, heavenly hope that this present age will pass away and be replaced by something more glorious. On that note, I really should return to these Revelation studies I'm writing...

Iterations said...

What an awesome statue!

Drew said...

The full quotation is definitely worth the read. Thanks Byron.

even if the statue itself must remain yearning and promise.

This is certainly not a powerless thing - to hold the promise open, no 'final word' can be allowed, not from anyone, including the UN.

byron smith said...

Tim, while the UN was '45, it was the revival of the League of Nations, which certainly had been utopian. Furthermore, much of the expansion of the UN (esp infrastructure in NYC) was in the 50s and so the architecture and tone of the facility is definitely utopian - or at least a utopian core which has accrued a few decades of weariness.

I don't see any real hope for mankind or this earth, other than a future, heavenly hope that this present age will pass away and be replaced by something more glorious.
Indeed, hence the Lewis quote: the end will come from outside, from God's side. My point is that rather than conceiving this in terms of destruction and replacement, our hope in Christ means it may well be more fruitful to view it as death and resurrection. Our hope is that what happened to Christ will happen to us and to the groaning creation.*

Drew: yes indeed - hope is what keeps open the final word so that we can act in the present. This is where I find Moltmann so insightful and provocative. But even more than a warning against either utopian dreams or cynical despair, hope is what draws us out of apathy. If resurrection is our future, then we matter and so does the whole creation. Resurrection, by keeping open the final word leaves space for provisional, anticipatory, secondary, penultimate hopes - what Barth calls 'little hopes'. And here the UN may have some provisional, penultimate role. Indeed, like other powers acting (at least sometimes) for (some kind of) justice, I think it requires our prayers and support.

* Though there may well be a difference to note between our destiny and that of creation, since while it has suffered under the effects of human and cosmic evil, it is not a perpetrator of evil.

Mister Tim said...

Interestingly, a bit of research shows that the sculpture is quite modern - which almost says that the UN is not weary of utopian views (if we accept that the UN was founded on utopian ideals):

I agree that the UN Charter has a utopian tone, and maybe many of the UN's supporters had utopian visions and ideals they saw it fulfilling, but I'd be pretty confident that the heads of state who actually committed their countries to the UN had far more pragmatism - that it was a body to be used to fulfill various goal, without actually expecting that it could ever achieve real peace on earth.

Your idea about creation being subject to evil rather than a perpetrator and therefore maybe a different fate is interesting - I'm going to reflect on that one.

So, here's a bigger question - we have a Biblical exhortation to care for our fellow humans - the poor, prisoners, blind, lame, etc (I was thinking of Matthew 25 here). Why does that necessarily transform into greater aspirations for the improvement of the human condition? Why 'little hopes' this side of heaven? Sure, we can pray for the UN, for our leaders, for justice, and we can do something to improve lives of those around us (and maybe farther afield), but isn't it ulimately a futile gesture doomed to frustration? God has effectively promised this too, I take it.

I have this frustration working on government programs - sure, we can help someone find work and become a self reliant citizen, but they're still going to to die and if they don't know Christ, then what was it all for? And further, it doesn't mean they will even be a more moral or 'good' person.

Thoughts? Am I too much of a cynic?

byron smith said...

I knew I was on shaky ground with the statue and should have done my homework before making any date claims. But it's a gift from Luxembourg, rather than commissioned by the UN (though they presumably made the decision to place it so prominantly, along with other visions of good triumphing over evil.

Why does that necessarily transform into greater aspirations for the improvement of the human condition? Why 'little hopes' this side of heaven?
Because heaven is not our hope (also here). Or rather, our hope is in heaven, since our hope is Christ himself, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end - and the new beginning even in the end. Our hope is the resurrection of the dead and a (re)new(ed) heavens and earth. So 'little hopes' can find a place. Not necessarily anything as grand as the dreams of UN-founders, nevertheless every small service and act of love and care is not in vain in the resurrected Lord (1 Cor 15.58).

Of course, I haven't answered your question (keep asking it!). Futility remains. We can't rip Ecclesiastes out of our Bibles: there remains nothing new under the sun. But it is futility not simply despite hope, but because of hope. It is hope itself that makes futility bite. When freedom is near, the chains begin to hurt. And hope liberates us from fear, so that we are free to pour ourselves out in service of a frustrated and frustrating world.

byron smith said...

Oops - our hope is in heaven, but not that we will be there, but that from there our saviour will again appear (Phil 3.20-21) to include us (and his world) in his resurrection life.

Mister Tim said...

I had written a carefully thought out response here, but I lost it when I accidentally navigated away from the page. Re-writing it just seemed futile...

byron smith said...

How frustrating...

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

I concur that the UN will never be able to create some form of utopia, but I think that their goal to create a better world is one that people should support.

The fact is that we don't see the good that the UN does. We don't see the millions that are helped by their food and education programs the world over. People even use the whole oil for food program as an example of how the UN doesn't work, despite the fact that it probably saved the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi children.

The issue is satisfaction - we don't "see" the UN at work so we conclude that they are useless. The world would be a much worse place if it wasn't for many of the UN programs.

Mister Tim said...

What I was going to say, in a very truncated form, was along these lines:
- I'm not convinced that there is a Biblical rationale for little hopes.
- Hope makes futility bite, but our hope in Christ (and the new creation, etc) is also encourgaing in the face of the futility we experience here on earth - an escapist hope.

The more interesting question I was going to pose: the UN's purpose is seen in biblical terms - does this mean that the UN is doing the work of God?

(I wonder though if we are in the Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 phase, where the subject of the sculpture comes into play after God has judged the nations, etc. Or are we in a more Joel 3 phase regarding swords and plowshares? Or somewhere in between?)

PS: I'm quite enjoying this thread of ideas.

One Salient Oversight:
I don't think the UN is useless because we don't see their achievements. I simply question whether any such achievements really matter at all in light of eternity,

byron smith said...

Tim, what do you do with Paul's conclusion in 1 Cor 15.58 that in the Lord our labour is not in vain?

OSO: I agree that much of the work of the UN doesn't get the press it often deserves - like the work of many NGOs making a difference in the lives of ordinary people. It is the suffering they help to avoid, and the possibilities they help to create, which, while far from perfect or eternally lasting, is nonetheless of great value.

Speaking of which, Tim, does eternity render everything else irrelevant? How are we to relate the good to the best? Is the good the enemy of the best? Or is the good made redundant in comparison to the best? When Paul doesn't consider the sufferings of this present age worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in/to us, does this apply to the little good things we receive every day and for which we are to thank God?

byron smith said...

And speaking of good epehemeral things: I'm off to the Opera House for a concert. Looking forward to continuing the conversation when I return.

byron smith said...


Mister Tim said...

My view was that the good is made redundant by the best. Incidentally, I wonder whether there is any remembrance in the new creation of any of the things of this age - whether we simply forget it all in light of the overwhelming wonderfulness of praising God.

As for 1 Cor 15:58 - I did think about that. It could be seen in two ways (that I can think of) other than what you suggested:

1. Work in the here and now matters into eternity for Christians individually - that is, our quest for holiness and service to God is remembered by God. Maybe there's a rewards concept there - I'm not sure.

2. Maybe work for the Lord is about growing his kingdom, so evangelism and helping encourage and strengthen other Christians (as opposed to, let's say, preventing war or helping old ladies across the street).

The implication of (1) is that only work by Christian matters, and it only matters to you as an individual. The implication of (2) is similar, except that it matters to others as well.

Looking at that verse in the context of Corinthians - I'm not sure what works Paul has in mind, but I think that either of my suggestions work equally as well as seeing it that the good you do in this life matters (in Christ) in and of itself - if that is an acceptable way of paraphrasing your point.

Christopher said...

If there is rememberance in the new creation, it could be a frightful and embarassing thing to be reminded that we didn't care about the situation of those sufferring in the old creation because we believed everything will be restored and forgotten in the new one.

byron smith said...

But what if the best is the renewal of the good? If it is not this world that God liberates (Rom 8), then is he vindicated as creator? The continuity (despite discontinuity) between Jesus' corpse and resurrection body is for me a key anticipatory vindication of (and promise for) this world. So I don't think that the work we do in the Lord can be limited to evangelism and helping Christians: that way leads to a new clericalism and a retreat from concern for the world that Christ died to reconcile (Col 1.18-20).

Drew said...

Woops, deleted my comment. Try again.

This is what I was getting at in my comment on the previous thread - that Tim implied a retreat from action in this world, in that it is seen as irrelevant. Loving our neighbour is dropped off the agenda; but these are acts of 'little hopes' that feed into, and out of, our larger hope.

Love compells us to act now. In God's wisdom, he doesn't let us in on which acts he will use to bring others to repentence, but use them he does. We are following Christ - our work is not futile, as per 1 Cor. 15:58 - as he did, it breaks into and open this futile age. But of course, we still feel the full brunt of futility, as, for the moment, it is hidden somewhat, and we remain within this frustrated creation.

I suggest that the continuity of rememberance might consist (partly) in that we will see -perhaps- how what appeared futile is not in vain.