Tuesday, January 23, 2024

“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men..."

I just subscribed to a promising new blog on Substack, The New Jerusalem, authored by father and son, Andrew and Spencer Klavan, "one a storyteller, the other a scholar." The first post, a joint effort, is "Those Who Remain."
There’s a Christian vision of the apocalypse in which God sweeps the faithful up into heavenly rapture, while unbelievers remain forlorn and bereft on the earth below. It’s a powerful image, well known from popular stories like the Left Behind novels and modern hymns like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Even outside the Christian tradition, T.V. shows like The Leftovers and the madcap satire This is the End have worked out versions of the same idea: victory and salvation are up there, in airy realms beyond the mire of time and space.

But there’s another interpretation of scripture that portrays the end times differently. What if, when Judgement Day begins, it’s the ones who remain on earth who are blessed? In fact, this scenario may be written into the Greek of the Gospel. Where English translators print “left behind,” Matthew has written aphietai: it means “released,” or even “forgiven.” So maybe the man taken from the field is not a role model but a cautionary tale. Maybe the final drama of salvation will take place not up in the air, but down here on the ground.

“The book of Revelation ends, not with souls going up to heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down to earth, so that ‘the dwelling of God is with humans,’” writes theologian N.T. Wright. It may be appealing to imagine slipping free of our bodies and sailing away into a great beyond of pure spirit. But perhaps in the end it will be this world—this flesh, this human life we live—that is redeemed.

Earlier in the same gospel, Jesus insists that “no one knows the day or the hour” when these things will happen—“not the angels in heaven, nor even the son” (emphasis added). As a rule, we find it wise to take Jesus at his word. Nothing we have to say here should suggest that we’re in possession of privileged information about the apocalyptic schedule. All the same, we do sense that humanity is approaching a singular crossroads—a moment in the near future when we will all be forced to choose between two irreconcilable ways forward. .... (more)

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