Final Concepts of the End
When I wrote the book on apocalypse and science fiction, I relied heavily on the work of one Paul D. Hanson, and his book, “The Dawn of Apocalyptic.” Hanson has no real quibble with Buber’s schema, except that it does lead to view apocalyptic as a corruption of prophecy—by which Buber and others mean that apocalyptic has given up on the present order. Hanson argues to the contrary that prophecy and apocalyptic share the same essential vision: “Yahweh’s people restored as a holy community in a glorified Zion.”
I put it this way in the previous post: prophecy and apocalyptic share the same essential promise of God to his people, “I will be with you always, even to the end!”
So what is the difference between the two? Hanson describes it thusly: Prophecy is the “announcement to the nation of the divine plan for Israel and the world; witnessed by the prophet unfolding in the divine council; and translated into terms of plain history, real politics, and human instrumentality.”
Apocalyptic, on the other hand, is the “disclosure (usually esoteric) to the elect of the cosmic vision of Yahweh’s sovereignty as he acts to deliver the faithful; no longer disclosed in terms of plain history, real politics, and human instrumentality; because of a pessimistic view of reality, due to post-exilic conditions.”
The difference, of course, lies in the fact that apocalyptic no longer sees how God’s plan can be understood in terms of the human action needed to help bring it into being; i.e., there is no way to get there (Zion) from here (a broken world) by any usual means (politics).
Prophecy works in a world that works. One clear example was/is the prophetic presence of Martin Luther King. Another was the prophetic action of Eugene McCarthy, when he opposed LBJ in the presidential primaries.
Both their prophetic messages worked , not because people agreed totally with their “politics,” but because they saw beyond their actions and words to the deeper vision MLK and McCarthy had for the future of our nation. And people saw that there was a way to get there.
Apocalyptic does not work in that world—because that world no longer works in that world. And apocalyptic’s message is that is does no good to wait for a new “prophet” who will lead us; what we need to wait for is a new world. And we have to be ready when that new world comes. What so many of the readers of The Book of Revelation miss is exactly this point: it is not the end of the world we are waiting for, not even the end of the “old” world (although this would be an improvement); it is rather the coming of the new world we await.
Still, the passing of the old does “reveal” something to us. This, we will take up in the next post.