Our perspective on the future defines, in large part, our perspective on the present. This principle plays out on hundreds of different levels every single day as we relate to the world around us. We believe a report that the weather will soon turn chilly so we pull out warmer clothes from the closet. The trash is scheduled to be picked up tomorrow so we put it out tonight. We are aware we will need to drive a certain distance tomorrow so we fill the car with gas today. Thus, even the minutia of our lives reveals that the future has everything to do with now. This is so concretely established in our thinking that when the relationship is not honored by the student, the employee, the child, the parent, etc. we find it inexcusable.
Upon discovering the final exam had been failed miserably, what respectable father could have his disappointment absolved simply by hearing that his son had not bothered to look in the syllabus to find out the date of the test? If a laborer was two hours late for the first day of work, what responsible supervisor would have their frustration put to flight when they were told that the employee hadn’t thought about a means of transportation until the moment it was time to leave for their shift?
These examples, minor as they may be, are sufficient to shatter the notion that our beliefs about the end only matter at the end. All of us know this to be ludicrous when applied to real life. When the realities of tomorrow do not shape the course of one’s actions today, it is only because of ignorance or negligence. In the case of the former, a false (or empty) view of the future has led to a foolish relationship to the present. In the case of the latter a myopic view of the present has eclipsed the consequences of the future.
With this in mind, how is it that we can so easily entertain the common idea that eschatology has little relevance for the identity and functioning of the Church in the present? Regardless of when “the end” is, however one views it is radically shaping “the now”. On the corporate level, the way that the age to come is understood defines the conception of this age and how the Church relates to it. On the individual level, the way an individual understands the fate that awaits them at the end of their life defines how they behave in all the days leading up to it.
Everyone has a view of eschatology and no one is immune from the potency of its impact on them. A person with the vague hope of a perpetual existence in an inert, wispy place they call “heaven” that doesn’t actually exist and is no more real to them than a fairy tale displays this every day as they spill themselves out on every pleasure of the world within their reach. Their eschatology demands that their reward be in this life, and that is precisely what they seek so ravenously.
What we believe about the future defines what we believe about the present and shapes how we live. All of this has merely been conceptual. In a follow-up post I will offer a brief look at how prevalent this truth is in the New Testament and why it can be a great source of strength to our hearts.