Get a Perspective Already (on the Not Yet)

getting perspective

Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social. From the very beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet the Bridegroom who is coming. Christ himself has invited certain persons to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:

“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1618-19

Of course, this is all in the context of making the case for clergy celibacy, something Protestantism roundly rejects.

But it is interesting that this portion of the Catholic Catechism touches on something that seems to be at the heart of a two-kingdom theology, namely that we live in a passing age and are looking with craning necks forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. If there is anything that a pilgrim theology means to say it is that there is a wide gulf between things temporal and things eternal. The temporal is at once very good and yet being slowly dismantled as time presses on and all creation groans. The temporal runs something of a gamut, from things trivial to those more enduring. “Trivial” things, unfortunately, tend to draw the short straw in the same way things “secular” do in wider Christendom. But, just as “secular” doesn’t so much mean “evil” as it relates to that which is temporal or of this common realm, “trivial” doesn’t so much mean that which is of no worth whatsoever as it means that which is ordinary or commonplace. Often times when we say something is trivial we seem to mean it is negligible, almost something to be deliberately avoided for fear of contaminating ourselves with its inherent waste of time. But, pursuant to a little perspective, to despise the mundane and ordinary is to loathe that which the Lord came to save.

But there is a necessary order to the temporal spectrum. If there are things trivial it follows that there must also be things enduring. Here is where we find things like marriage, which, like things temporal, are also at once very good and passing. At this end of the spectrum there is not only the tension of being both very good and passing, but also the tension of being enduring but passing. It is easy to mistakenly dismiss things trivial and passing because of a misguided notion of what it means to be trivial. It is equally easy to overly laud things enduring but passing because of a misguided notion of what it means to be enduring. To be enduring is not to be eternal. But both things trivial and enduring (and things somewhere in between, for that matter) reside on the temporal spectrum, thus making them both things that those eternally minded should be duly cautious about. (And everyone knows what they say about all work and no play.)

In order to gain a perspective on things enduring-but-not-temporal it might be good to list some of them. They include: education, politics and culture, family, marriage, and even life itself. And it seems instructive to note that Jesus repeatedly challenged his hearers not on things trivial but on things enduring. In John 5:39 he challenged the notion amongst the religious elites that a thorough-going curricular approach to the Scriptures may be great, but it doesn’t help anyone with the problem of seeing eternal forests for temporal trees, saying, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” When it came to politics and worldly care and might, Jesus said in John 18:

My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.

In Luke 9 there are hard words for those who need to bury their dead dads before they follow him. And in Luke 12 even harder words:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

And in Luke 14 vexing, and apparently contradictory words for those well nurtured on the fifth commandment:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

And Luke 20 seems to suggest a more proximate posture for those who may over-realize the value of family values:

The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

And what of that highest temporal good, life itself?

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

It would seem that if we would gain eternal perspective on the greatest of temporal blessings, even our very created life, we might do well to understand its penultimate nature instead of assuming its ultimate nature. And if we can do that, maybe all the other facets that make up the temporal order would come into better view. I think that’s what they call getting a perspective.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Pilgrim theology, Reformed piety, Two-kingdoms. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Get a Perspective Already (on the Not Yet)

  1. Alex Garleb says:

    Excellent post! This is very helpful at this juncture of my life (especially since “my” life is merely in Christ).

  2. RubeRad says:

    Typos? gambit->gamut?
    enduring-but-not-temporal->enduring-but-temporal?

  3. RubeRad says:

    Hmm, good stuff, but this seems to be opposite your usual rhetoric. Isn’t the bigger point of 2K to affirm the legitimacy, goodness, and value of the second kingdom in and of its created self? I mean pietism and gnosticism will naturally foster an underestimation of things worldly

  4. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    I’m not sure I understand your question. But I would say that 2K wants to at once affirm the very goodness of the created, temporal order but also emphasize its temporality over against eternity. This can create a tension, of course. And instead of living with it, pietism wants to relieve that tension by invoking a world-flight piety, emphasizing eternity, not similtaneously with an affirmation of the created order but at its expense.

  5. renee says:

    Hi Zrim,

    Have you read this story? It sounds like 2K is catching on .

    A Supreme Court without Protestants?

    CNN) — For most of American history, a Supreme Court with no Protestant Christian judges would have been unthinkable. Nearly three-quarters of all justices who’ve ever served on the nation’s high court have been Protestant. And roughly half of all Americans today identify themselves as Protestant.

    “It’s an amazing irony, given how central Protestantism has been to American culture,” said Stephen Prothero, a religion scholar at Boston University. “For most of the 19th century, Protestants were trying to turn America into their own heaven on Earth, which included keeping Jews and Catholics from virtually all positions of power.”

    http://edition.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/05/03/supreme.court.protestants/index.html

  6. Zrim says:

    Renee,

    From where I sit, I don’t think less Protestants in seats of power evidences that 2K is “catching on.” The point of 2K isn’t withdrawal from any worldly activity (a common mistake), it’s perspective on it. It’s the pietists who toggle between withdrawal and warriorism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s