Beginning Concepts of the End
(I realize that the ending of my previous post may have terrified some readers out there. I do not want the old world “out there” to pass away. I want that to happen to the old world in my head. Ah, the joys of writing on the fly!)
So, to proceed along a more rational, analytical path, let me propose some tools I will use in talking about the end time.
The first one is this: there is a distinction to be made between prophecy and apocalyptic.
This is how Martin Buber (of I-Thou fame) characterizes the differences: Concerning the eschatology of the two (i.e., where it comes from and how each views future events unfolding), Buber says of prophecy that it is native and monistic. Prophecy is grounded in Israel’s monotheistic faith; it sees one being, Yahweh, responsible for all events. Of apocalyptic, he says it is foreign and dualistic. Apocalyptic is influenced by foreign thought, specifically a dualistic world view: Yahweh responsible for the good in the world, Satan, etc., responsible for the evil. In the end it all comes down to a struggle between those two forces.
Concerning the object of hope, prophecy describes it as the fulfillment of creation; apocalyptic as the dissolution of this creation (the world of Satan) by a different world (a new heaven and a new earth).
And concerning the judgment (what Yahweh says about the course of future events), prophecy says it is conditional: announced, but revocable; that is, it depends on how people respond to the word of God. If they believe and live according to the demands of God, all will be well. If they whore after false gods, their fate will be doom and despair. Apocalyptic, on the other hand, says of the judgment that it is final: unalterable, fixed and determinate. It will play out exactly as it has been revealed.
There are a couple of things that need to be said in commenting on this distinction—well, actually three:
1) As with all distinctions, this one over-simplifies. Not all prophecy is monistic, not all apocalyptic is dualistic. As a rule of thumb, whatever apocalyptic there is found in the canon (Hebrew and Christian) tends toward being monistic; whatever is found outside, tends toward being dualistic. And so forth down through the categories of “object of hope” and “judgment.”
2) Buber’s schema of the differences leads toward the view of apocalyptic as a corruption of prophecy. All I would be willing to concede is that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Even further, sometimes prophecy has become so corrupt (see the tracts in Isaiah and Jeremiah against the false prophets) that new responses are demanded. (This will lead to my next post.)
3) If I were forced to reduce what I have learned about prophecy and apocalyptic to one statement, it would be this: Neither prophecy not apocalyptic are about God’s predictions, they are about God’s promise. And the core of that promise is this: I will be with you always, even to the end!