Lately, there is one question I hear quite often. It comes up in conversations with all sorts of people – including my parents and friends. “Where shall all this lead to?” This shows a great feeling of insecurity - “How shall all this end?”
You might have asked it yourself. It is a good question – don't get me wrong. However, it always seems to expect a catastrophic ending. The great tree dieback. Inflation. Foreign infiltration. The islamisation of Europe. Harmaggedon. In other terms – the end of the world as we know it.
Unfortunately, we Christians seem to think the same way. This is quite human – but certainly not biblical. The Bible also has a vision of the world's end, although in the Bible this end is not a catastrophe. God does not bury his head in his hands, sighs and wonders where all of this will end. However, when God thinks about the end of this world it is not a tribulation.
The catastrophe will not come in the future. The catastrophe already happened long ago – and still has great impact on us today.
Remember, how the world was created? We have heard the creation narrative. How was the world created?
It was created good! Very good indeed! Next time you read the creation narrative – instead of focusing on how the world was created, pay attention to the quality of God's creation. This very world of which we are part of was created very well.
What happened next? … the catastrophe. Man wanted to be like God. Man wanted and still wants to take God's role. He wants to roll up his sleeves and form the world acording to his own aspirations and desires. This is the death of God. As Nietzsche wrote: God is dead and we killed him! And now we are damned to be gods ourselves. But with being gods we human beings are hopelessly overwhelmed.
The presumptuousness of wanting to take God's own place was the absolute and decisive catastrophe. What has happened since is a mere consequence thereof. The Bible does not speak of the death of God, as Nietzsche did, but it rather speaks of the death of man: “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die!” (2:17) It is our hubris, our pride and arrogance, which is killing us. And with us all creation is carried away into the chaos which we caused. This is the catastrophe – and this catastrophe is old and gruesome.
Now I would like to invite you to span a bridge. I have highlighted some insights from the first chapters of the Bible and now we turn our attention to the very end of the Bible. The last two chapters in the book of Revelation are obviously meant to be read alongside the creation narrative from Genesis.
You may recognise some phrases and ideas which pop up again when John the Seer describes his vision of the end of the world. There he speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, or rather a renewed heaven and a renewed earth. He imagines light without the need of the sun. He describes sources and rivers overflowing with the water of life which flows out into all the world. There are precious stones and gold. There are gates guarded by angelic beings – but this time, the gates will be open for all nations. The tree of life reappears, now bearing fresh fruit each month and growing leaves for the healing of the nations. It will be heaven on earth. It will be God among us – in a way so astonishingly real that we run out of words to describe it.
John made this link to Genesis on purpose: everything began well and it will all end very well indeed. This world will not disappear in chaos, but will be filled anew with living order and everlasting peace.
Of course, in these last two chapters of the Bible, we also read about the coming judgement of God. Those who persistently and unerringly want to remain their own gods will be judged. These are the ones who distance themselves from the living presence of God. They show their desire for separation through their attitude and actions. It is very appropriate that this judgement will be exercised by God, for if he did not, he would be collaborating with the enemy. Justice is good news! This is the essential message of John's book: Follow Jesus and live by the values of his kingdom – distance yourselves from the enemy and the lies he tells!
So, now we have two extremes – God's good creation at the beginning and God's good renewed creation at the end. And we, where are we now? We are right in the middle. And if we are being honest, we have to admit that we personally and also we as a church have our share in the big catastrophe which dominates this world. We must not forget or excuse all the terrible things which humans did – and still do – in the name of God. We Christians are part of the problem, but we are also part of God's solution to this problem!
For us to be part of the solution rather than being the problem, we should rethink and organise our lives in a way that reflects the good end which is to come. Micah, the prophet put it like this: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8)
When Micah uses “o man” to address his audience, he does something quite strange. Normally, in the Old Testament God speaks to Israel and tells this specific ethnic group about his divine expectations for them. Now Micah addresses humankind – if you wish – in the Hebrew we find the word Adam. What exactly does God, the creator of all the world, expect from his human creatures?
I would like to comment first on the last requirement: “to walk humbly with your God”. This is exactly what the first Adam did not do – paradigmatically. To walk humbly with God would be to accept that he alone is God and that I am not. This means in consequence, that I would also stop trying to behave like a god. It means that I accept my god-given role in God's wider creation. I cannot go back to Genesis to explain it in detail so a very short summary may suffice: As humans we are to mirror God's wise ordering of the creation. We are his representatives in this world trying to bring back order, justice and peace so that all creation should be flourishing in the best possible ways. Walking humbly with God means to accept this role and fulfil it with all our wisdom and strength.
Now the two other requirements God gave us: “to do justice” and “to love kindness”. Both are already included in walking humbly, but Micah seems to be a realist. Towards the end of the 8th century it was as it is today – walking humbly with God could be understood as something purely spiritual. Of course it has a strong spiritual aspect, but it never is limited to something like prayer or religious rituals. To live with God implies the love for justice and a deep attitude of kindness. And this leads to action.
Just begin to imagine how the world could look like if we all as Christians were to rethink and organise our lives in a way that reflects the good end which is to come! How would it look like if we already were to anticipate the values and goodness of the world to come in the brokenness of the present world? Let us learn the grammar and the vocabulary of the only language which will continue to exist in God's renewed future world – the language of love. Let us rethink this world from its end and then live in it bringing the end forward into our present.
The challenge is not to become super humans – this will never work. God rather expects us to become more and more human. The kind of human beings which he imagined us to be from the very beginning. This is all not terribly complicated but it will require a conscious effort to rethink the world and act accordingly – in a bold and appealing way. We need to proclaim a good God and do good things so our message is congruent. We only have positive reasons to hope in a hopeless world.
Of course each and everyone of us has to face their own challenges when trying to apply all this to our everyday lives. At the seminary in southern Brazil where I teach OT and NT, we call this approach to theology “holistic mission”. This is a complicated word for exactly what we were thinking about just now. To do missions is an effort to bring together what never should have been put asunder – the proclamation of a good God, of his forgiveness, and the actions in response to the divine challenge to do tangible good to our fellow humans. In Brazil, there is a long way to go to mend a huge gap between spiritual concerns of the churches and the social and ecological responsibility of all humans including the ones who call themselves Christians. There are many who emphasise either or, but few who try to keep these things together.
Things will be different here in England. They are different in Germany. The many refugees pose a new challenge to us and I see it as a great chance to really rethink our system. Consumerism and capitalism will not do to serve as a reliable base to handle the issues. It will not be easy to find a genuinely Christian answer – and maybe there will never be an elegant solution for an ugly problem. But to burry the head in a fit of fear and wait for the end of the world will not do either. Fear always paralyses and makes aggressive. To only look fearfully at a black cloud which we call “end-times” will paralyse us and also make us aggressive. Let us focus on God's renewed creation and do good, because we are already the children of this new creation. Let us mirror God's love in the ways we can do it – always knowing that perfect times only will come at the very end.
Let us do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. And let us do it well – for the good of all. Amen.