There may be trouble ahead…
I’m not sure about birth-pangs.
Birth-pangs imply that there will be an end, and that the end will bring (usually) new life (see my short story in yesterday’s blog post).
As far as I can see, there have been wars and rumours of wars throughout history. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of such stories – descriptions of anger, hatred, betrayal, adultery. The disciples of Jesus will have been steeped in the history of the Children of Israel. This most recent invasion and occupation, by the Romans (not noted for their mercy to dissidents), must have had them crying out to God in the words of the prophet Habbakuk:
How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
But you do not listen!
“Violence is everywhere!” I cry,
but you do not come to save.
Must I forever see these evil deeds?
Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look,
I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralysed,
and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
so that justice has become perverted.
With all that’s going on in the world today, I reckon we could echo those words…
And then Jesus turns up. As they got to know him better and to see his power they began to be more and more certain that this man was the promised Messiah.
They had very clear ideas about what that meant – in their minds it meant a great leader who would bring them release from oppression – and by that they meant specifically a military leader who would throw out the Romans and establish God’s kingdom – the earthly kingdom of Israel – once and for all in a Golden Age.
Nowadays we pity their naivety. We can oh, so easily feel superior – of course that was never what God intended. We, with the benefit of that most amazing thing, hindsight, know that for sure.
So what conclusion do we draw then?
Maybe Jesus wasn’t after all the Messiah.
Maybe God actually doesn’t care about our every-day agony and the way the world is heading – history would suggest that.
Maybe God is so completely Other that we can never know or understand what it’s all about.
Maybe we are simply an experiment – like bacteria in some giant petri dish, with far-superior aliens looking on, and anyone who comes close to realising the truth and escaping the illusion is like a bacterium which wanders too far into the encircling protective penicillin and dies (gentle reader, you just might recognise the plot from an Asimov short story – Breeds there a man? – in that one…)
Or maybe there is no God after all…………..
The traditional interpretation is that Jesus was stating the literal truth in this passage – that one day God will wrap it all up and usher in His Kingdom Rule here on the physical earth, that it is merely the timescale that the disciples got wrong. At least, that’s what I was taught in my early years, what is still taught in my current Parish church and what is implied, I suspect, in Tom Wright’s commentary.
This I can’t believe. On so many levels, it simply doesn’t make sense.
Assuming for the moment that God exists, and that God is a benign Presence of Light, Love, Being, I see no way that the Kingdom of God can be reduced to earthly structures.
Given that God (if such a being exists) appears to have given us untrammelled free will, there can never be an earthly, physical “God’s Kingdom Rule” without changing us from autonomous beings to mere puppets.
That leaves me two options.
Walk away entirely from the Christian narrative.
Or understand the stories differently.
Mostly I do the latter.
And this particular story I understand as an indication that life is tough, unpredictable, full of death and disaster and pain. That is simply how it is – and how it ever was, and how it ever will be.
Even now dark clouds are gathering once again over the world. The extreme Right is rising up, prejudice and hatred are gaining momentum. Russia is flexing its muscles and eyeing eastern European ex-Russian-Satellite-States speculatively. The situation in Syria is beyond words awful. However, we’ve been here before and will be here again. In my youth (50s and 60s) we lived in fear of imminent nuclear holocaust. It hasn’t happened (at least, not yet… and certainly not in the way it was predicted then). This too will pass. Or not. Who knows? I certainly don’t.
One thing is certain, and one question matters.
How will I face this latest round of death and doom and disaster?
Daily, hourly, moment by moment, I choose my personal response to each person I encounter.
I choose to continue to follow the call of Christ to live by Kingdom values – love, faith, mercy, integrity (and that last includes not pretending in this blog that I subscribe to the standard interpretation of scripture, not pretending that I believe it to be literally true – although I do believe that it contains and reveals Truth).
And in such choices, Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is established on earth.
So please, please don’t try to convince me that what we hear and read in the news are signs that the End Times will soon be upon us.
I believe that, since the resurrection, we have all been living in the End Times and that with each choice made to live by Kingdom Rules Christ comes again and God’s Kingdom is further established.
In other words, Christ comes again and is revealed to the world in us.
Choice by choice.
In our willingness to live sacrificially by His standards, not the prevailing cultural norm.
What does that look like?
Feeding the hungry
Housing the homeless
Visiting those in prison
Giving water to those who thirst
Clothing the naked
Fighting (and voting) for social justice even if that is not in my personal best financial interest
The list could go on…
Not some future magic-wand solution, but us – here, now – we are the way God’s Kingdom is being established, one choice at a time.