Events of the last twenty four hours have taken me to thinking about eschatology. If you take a realist theology then eschatological matters are always something of an embarrassment. I have found it helpful to understand the Maccabean roots of one strand of our eschatology – that the supernatural hope beyond death is a function of squaring the justice of a God who does not act, with the righteousness of the martyrs who die as victims of the powers, whether it be by the direct swords and crosses of persecution or the grinding Imperial yoke that crushes the life out of communities.
We see this in the Lukan couplet at 6:20 "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." And 6:24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort."
I can see how the eschatological hope functions for the poor, the downtrodden and the victims of the powers. Psychologically there has to be more than this, if your life is made miserable by the combination of the cruel selfishness of the few, coupled with the institutional brutality of a class of lackeys acting under orders out of either fear or the desire to make things a little better for their own families. If God is just then there must be resurrection – if the tables are not turned in this life, then surely God will work his great reversal in the age to come.
So it is with this in mind that I come to Twitter and Blogs where there is a collective letting off of steam at the death of widely hated former leader. The following example is not untypical.
… Maggot Thatcher snuffed it today … so .. its all together now, and in her own words … “Rejoice ! – rejoice … ! “
They will be singing and dancing tonight – from the Falls Road in Belfast .. to the streets of Brixton… and the decimated communities of Yorkshire, Durham, Nottingham, Wales and Scotland and beyond …
But no singing & dancing from the bereaved families of the brave Marines & the Welsh Guards on the Sir Galahad .. cold-bloodedly sacrificed by Thatcher to win an election
… the Darkest Witch that the Devil and the English establishment ever imposed on the hard-working innocents of the nation has finally been cleansed from the land … rejoice .. rejoice … ! The She-devil is no longer amongst us
… and The Fires of Hell are welcoming one of their own …
Tomorrow is a bright new dawn, and the air will taste fresher and cleaner ….
This is an interesting blog post, because the anonymous writer instinctively reaches for the language of eschatology and super-nature. We see the "fires of hell", "a dark witch" and "she devil", we also see the eschatological New Earth, dawning brightly with fresh clean air. What are we to make of this reach for the strong and dark language of eschatology when evil rulers die in their beds, un-deposed by God, without the vindication of justice?
Equally interesting over the past twenty four hours has been the moralistic reaction against those expressing the relief of such a symbolic passing. This of course comes in two forms; the crude version is simple sectarianism – those who quietly happily deride the passing of Hugo Chavez, or Osama Bin Laden but object when it is their own camp’s champion whose evil is being called into question. These can be safely ignored. The other is the more pious condemnation against the celebration of the death of any individual. This one is psychologically more interesting, especially if the function of eschatology is to give vent to powerful emotional forces which if repressed in the cultural pressure-cooker would result in violence.
So, three questions and a thought…
1) Does a Christianity without eschatology lose something important in expressing the solidarity of God with the poor?
2) Can a community maintain an eschatology of hope – "blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven", without an eschatology of woe towards those who are currently oppressing them, or benefiting from their oppression?
3) What happens psychologically and culturally if we, on grounds of "taste and decency" censor the resort to the eschatological?
Finally Revelation 21:24 has the "…the kings of the world will enter the city," Perhaps the answer to the tension of eschatological hope and eschatological condemnation is the Christian theology of eschatological universalism. If Jesus can even admit the enemies of God, the kings of the earth, into his new city, then perhaps there needs to be a liturgical space for communities to enact forgiveness towards Margaret thatcher in this life. Our liturgy needs to acknowledge the pain she caused and that goes on being meted out in her name. Our liturgy needs to give us words and actions to turn the tears of bitterness into the open hands of neighbourly love. Our liturgy needs to be a space free of hagiography and triumphalism (so the military funeral at St Pauls will be no place for this work). Our liturgy needs to become a place where we may release her soul from hell and so release our wounded hearts to the God who would not act. Our liturgy should empower us to become a community so enraptured with the story of love that we never allow another one such as this to arise again, yet always alert to the new guise in which the powers charm their way into dominion. Our liturgy will help us to remember, and to forgive.