The Modern World and Hope
Posted on 9.14.2021
We are eschatological creatures. To flourish we need a horizon, a goal, a telos, a destination if not a destiny. Lacking this, we wander, life seems pointless, random and meaningless. And this is one of the key reasons we struggle in the modern world. Without God, we lack a metaphysical structure that can posit and sustain hope in any sturdy or durable way. In the modern world, the arch of the universe doesn’t bend toward anything except randomness and death.
And sadly, the modern church has contributed to this problem. Bullied by the cultural despisers of faith, the church has become timid on the subject of hope. Here’s how Robert Jenson describes it in his essay “How the World Lost Its Story”:
[P]reaching and teaching and hymns and prayers and processions and sacramental texts must no longer be shy about describing just what the gospel promises, what the Lord has in store. Will the City’s streets be paved with gold? Modernity’s preaching and teaching–and even its hymnody and sacramental texts–hastened to say, “Well, no, not really.” And having said that, it had no more to say. In modern Christianity’s discourse, the gospel’s eschatology died the death of a few quick qualifications.
I’ve discussed this exact thing before the blog, how heaven has become a bit of an embarrassment among many Christians, even taboo. In many of our churches, heaven died the death of a few quick qualifications. And having made those qualifications, we had no more to say.
We need courage to become hopeful again, to boldly proclaim a metaphysics of hope. As Jenson continues:
The truly necessary qualification is not that the City’s streets will not be paved with real gold, but that gold as we know it is not real gold, such as the City will be paved with. What is the matter with gold anyway? Will goldsmiths who gain the Kingdom have nothing to do there? To stay with this one little piece of the vision, our discourse must learn again to revel in the beauty and flexibility and integrity of gold, of the City’s true gold, and to say exactly why the world the risen Jesus will make must of course be golden, must be and will be beautiful and flexible and integral as is no earthly city. And so on and on.
Because Jesus lives to triumph, there will be the real Community, with its real Banquet in its real City amid its real Splendor, as no penultimate community or banquet or city or splendor is really just and loving or tasty or civilized or golden. The church has to rehearse that sentence in all her assemblings, explicitly and in detail.
When it comes to hope, we need braver Christians and churches.
Dare to hope for those streets of gold.